The result of our inquiries in reference to the free thought of the present time has been especially to exhibit three main tendencies; one, arising from Positivism, a tendency to deny the possibility of revelation;(991) a second, from an opposite philosophy, to deny its necessity;(992) and a third, to accept it only in part.(993) These are the three tendencies by which the world and church of the coming generation are likely to be influenced. Our path in life will be in a world where they are operating; and we shall have need to be armed with the whole armour of God. If we have in our personal history so investigated the evidences of our faith, as to feel that we have a well-grounded hope, unassailable by these doubts, we may be thankful: if we have gone safely through the perilous test of a careful examination of them, sometimes staggering perhaps in our faith, yet struggling after truth in prayerful trust that the Lord would himself be our teacher, until we now are able to feel that we have our faith grounded on a Rock,—a faith which is the result of inquiry, not of ignorance,—let us be still more thankful, and exemplify our thankfulness by trying to assist the doubter with our tender sympathy, and to aid him in finding the truth and peace which Christ has given to us. Our attitude in moments of peril must be that of solemn reliance on God's help; and our behaviour towards others ought to exhibit Christian firmness, mingled with candour and tenderness; evincing the moderation of true learning, joined to the uncompromising adherence to the Christian faith.
The history now given, of the doubt which is expressed at present through the English language, completes the account of the fourth great crisis of belief in church history;(994) and with it we bring to an end our long survey of the history of free thought.
Since the commencement of the second lecture, we have been so involved in the details of the investigation, that, to those who have lost sight of the plan proposed in the commencement, the lectures may have appeared historical rather than controversial, and hardly compatible with the purpose of the founder of the Lecture. We have been like travellers moving in a tangled plain, where the path at times seems lost. Before entering upon it, we took our stand, as it were, on an eminence; and indicated the plan of the route; pointed to the kind of territory through which it would conduct us, and the direction to which it would tend. Now, that we have at last extricated ourselves from its windings, and rest after our journey, let us cast a glance backward over its course, and see how far the result has verified our anticipations. Let us reconsider the purpose designed by this course of inquiry; notice how far the promises in respect to it have been fulfilled; show its relation to controversial purpose; and collect the moral lessons which are derivable.
It will be remembered that we stated(995) the topic to be, a critical history of free thought in Europe in relation to the Christian religion. Our criticism started from a Christian point of view, and assumed alike the miraculous character of Christianity, the exceptional character of the religious inspiration of the first teachers of it, and the reality of its chief doctrines. From this point of view we proposed to consider the attempts of the human mind to get free from the authority of the Christian religion, either by rejecting it in whole or in part.(996) Four great crises of faith were enumerated in church history;(997) the first, the struggle, literary and philosophical, of early heathenism against Christianity;(998) the second, the reawakening of free thought in the middle ages;(999) the third, that which appertained to the revival of classical literature;(1000) the fourth, to the growth of modern philosophy;(1001)—a series of epochs which exhibit the struggle of Christianity in the great centres of thought and civilization, ancient or modern; and it was proposed that our investigation should not only contain a chronicle of the facts, but explain the causes, and teach the moral.(1002) We considered that the causes which make thought develope into unbelief are chiefly two,—the emotional and the intellectual;(1003) and, while vindicating distinctness of operation for the intellectual under certain circumstances,(1004) yet we allowed the union of them with the moral to be so intimate,(1005) that not only must account always be taken of the latter in estimating the unbelief of individuals, but the exclusive study of the former, without allowing for the existence of the latter, must be regarded as likely to lead to an imperfect and injurious idea of unbelief.
The intellectual causes were however selected as the special subject of our study;(1006) partly because they have been much neglected by Christian writers, partly because they are the forms which for the most part create the doubts which Christians encounter in the present age. The principal intellectual causes were considered(1007) to be, either the new material of knowledge, such as the physical or metaphysical sciences, which may present truth antagonistic to the teaching of the sacred literature; or new methods of criticism, the application of which creates opinions differing from those of the traditionary belief; and, above all, the effects of the application of particular tests of truth,—sense, reason, intuition, feeling,—to the doctrines of revealed religion.
This was our plan; and we have been employed in tracing the influence of these causes in generating doubt in the four great crises, with a minuteness which may almost have been tedious; endeavouring to supply the natural as well as the literary history; analysing each successive step of thought into the causes which produced it; searching for them when necessary in the intellectual biography of individuals; and, if not refuting results, at least laying bare by criticism the processes through which they were attained. At the same time we have attempted to show the grounds on which the faith of the church has reposed in the various ages of history. A defence, itself also twofold in its character—emotional and intellectual—has been generated by the attack in each of the crises, and an example thus furnished of the law which governs human society,—progress by antagonism. Permanent gain to truth was seen to be the result of the various controversies; quiet and refreshment after the discharge of the storm had cleared the atmosphere from the intellectual and moral ills with which it was charged.
The utility of the inquiry will now, it is hoped, be apparent. Though these lectures must be regarded as instructive for the believer, rather than polemic against the unbeliever, yet they are intended to serve also a controversial purpose.
There are times indeed when the mere instructiveness of a history, independently of practical use, is a sufficient justification for writing it;—times when it is important to take the gauge of past knowledge as the condition of a step forward in the future. Those who are accustomed to meditate on the present age, on the multifarious elements which in a time of great peace are quietly laying the basis of great changes, and on the unity of intellectual condition which the international intercourse is creating in the world of letters, as really as in that of industry, will perhaps think that the present is such a period, when the knowledge of the history of the former perils of the Christian faith, the nature of the attack and of the defence, is itself of value in regard to the prospects of the future.(1008) Those again also, who are accustomed to look at the contemporary works of evidence in our own country, will deplore the fact that in many cases, however well meant in spirit, they are essentially deficient in a due appreciation of the precise origin and character of present forms of doubt, and the natural and literary history of doubt in general;(1009) reproducing arguments unanswerable against older kinds of doubt, but unavailing against the modern, like wooden walls against modern weapons of war. We stand in the presence of forms of doubt, which press us more nearly than those of former times, because they do not supersede Christianity by disbelief, but disintegrate it by eclecticism; which come in the guise of erudition, unknown in former times, appealing to new canons of truth, reposing on new methods, invested with a new air. In such a moment a reconsideration of the struggles of past ages becomes indirectly a contribution to the evidences, by supplying the knowledge of similarity and contrast, which is necessary, as a preliminary, before entering on a new conflict.
The dangers to faith in the present day are sometimes exaggerated; but there cannot be a doubt that we live in a time when old creeds are in peril; when the doubt is the result not of ignorance, but of knowledge, and acts in the minds that are pre-eminent for intellectual influence, and advances with a firmness that is not to be repelled by force but by argument. It is not the duty of Christians to shut their eyes to the danger, like the ostrich, which supposes by burying her eyes in the sand to avoid the huntsman's arrow. There seems accordingly special reason why in such an age an acquaintance with the forms of doubt is requisite on the part of those who have to minister the religion which is the subject of attack.
If accordingly a clergy is to be trained up likely to supply the intellectual cravings of the present day, they must be placed on a level with its ripest knowledge, and be acquainted with the nature and origin of the forms of doubt which they will encounter. The church has indeed a large field, where work and not thought is to be the engine which the clergy must use in their labours; truly a home mission, where men and women for whom Christ died, require to be lifted out of their mere animalism, and taught the simplest truths of Christ, and prayer, and immortality: and noble are the efforts that Christians have made, and are making, for an object so religious and philanthropic; but there is a danger lest this very energy of work, which accords so naturally with the utilitarianism of the English character, should lead us to forget that there is an opposite stratum of society, to which also Christianity has its message, which is only to be reached by the delicate gifts of intellect and by the ripest learning.
If Christianity is to be presented to this class, adapted to the demands of the age so far as they are reasonable, but unmutilated and unaltered in its body of revealed doctrine, preserving in its integrity the faith delivered to the saints; so that apostles might recognize it as being that which they themselves taught, and for which they laid down their lives; it is necessary that Christian students should be trained specially for the work, by a learned and intelligent appreciation of truth, such as will create orthodoxy without bigotry, and charity without latitude. If we have to dread their going forth with hesitating opinions, teaching, through their very silence concerning the mysterious realities which constitute the very essence of Christianity, another gospel than that which was once for all miraculously revealed; there is almost equal ground for alarm if they go forth, able only to repeat the shibboleths of a professional creed, and unable to give a reason of the glorious hope that is in them. In the former case they will fail to teach historic and dogmatic Christianity, because they do not believe it; in the latter because they do not understand its meaning and evidence. If they need piety as the first requisite, they need knowledge as the second. In certain conditions of the church, study is second only to prayer itself as an instrument for the Christian evangelist.
It is hoped, therefore, that a sketch of a department not previously treated as a whole, may indirectly be an aid to the Christian faith, if it shall perform the humble office of supplying some elements of instruction to the Christian student.
Such a purpose however would hardly have justified the introduction of the subject here. The motive which dictated its consideration was much more practical. It was hoped that the answer to many species of doubt would be found by referring them to the forms of thought or of philosophy from which they had sprung; that it would be possible to perceive how they might be refuted, by understanding why and how men have come to believe them.(1010) This is a study of mental pathology seldom undertaken. The practical aim of Christian writers has generally suggested to them a readier mode of treating the history of unbelief, by referring its origin to intellectual pride; and, if any margin remained unaccounted for by this explanation, to refer it to an invisible agent, the direct operation of Satan.(1011) Such a method, however true, commits the error, against which Bacon utters a warning, of ascending at once to the most general causes without interpolating the intermediate. It ignores the intellectual class of causes, and omits to trace the subtlety of their mode of manifestation;—a problem equally interesting, whether they be regarded as original causes of doubt, or only as secondary instruments obeying the impulse of the emotional causes. It would have been possible to investigate the subject, by selecting a few leading instances to illustrate the natural history of doubt; but the most likely mode for exhausting the subject, as well as for presenting it in a manner which would fall in with the historic tastes of the age, seemed to be, to treat it by means of a critical history, presenting the antidote by a running criticism; and to ask, frankly and fully, what have been the grounds on which Christianity has been doubted; and what have been those on which the faith of Christians in their hour of peril has reposed; and then finally to gather up the lessons which the history itself teaches.
The inquiry has been analogous to the study of the history of a disease; and scientific rigour required that it should be conducted with a similar spirit of fairness towards those that manifest its symptoms. As the physiologist, who wishes to learn the laws of a disease, watches patiently the symptoms in the subject of it, not reproaching the sufferer, even if the malady be self-caused; so in moral diagnosis, the student of mental and religious error must carry out his inquiries in the spirit of cold analysis, if he would arrive at the real character of the intricate facts which he studies. The candour of our examination has not been prompted by any spirit of indifference to truth, nor by sympathy with error; but partly by the demands of historical accuracy, partly by deep pity for those who are the subject of spiritual doubts, even when the doubts are of their own fault.
This view of the inquiry, as an analysis of the intellectual causes of doubt, will also explain one or two peculiarities in it, which, if left unnoticed, might leave an impression of its inutility.
It will be seen, for example, that in the investigation of the natural history of doubt, and in the explanation of the antecedent metaphysical or critical questions which have produced it, we have indicated the schools of thought which have created it, but have abstained from insisting on the inherent necessity of the relation which subsists between the metaphysical tests of truth and the religious conclusions discussed. The reason is, that it seemed unfit to assume a side eagerly in the metaphysical controversy; and therefore, while showing that the use of certain grounds of belief and methods of inquiry has produced, both as a matter of history and logic, certain species of doubt or disbelief; we have not attempted to condemn the particular metaphysical theories on the ground of the logical consequences which are supposed to flow from them, nor to deny that they could be so amended, as either to avoid the sceptical conclusions to which our objections are taken, or be rendered innocuous by the co-existence of other causes. Science only shows the general tendency or law of logical connection between intellectual causes and effects. The production of the results in particular cases is subject to exception from the introduction of interfering causes.(1012)
Another peculiarity which appertains to the analysis of the intellectual sources of doubt, besides the seeming absence of invariable necessity in their operation, might be thought to destroy the practical value of the inquiry; viz. the feeling of disappointment excited when it is perceived that they do not wholly explain the phenomenon, and are merely antecedents or elements, not causes. This arises from the very nature of mental analysis. Being in nature like chemical, it aims only at the detection of the elements that make up the compound, and furnishes the material or formal causes, not the efficient. This longing of the mind to find causes, and to discover the original motive power, is however a witness to the ineffaceable connection of the idea of power with that of will. And while it does not destroy the completeness of the analysis, as the solution of the intellectual problem proposed, it nevertheless points to the instinctive wish of the heart to resolve the causes of doubt into some ultimate source in the will; and is thus a witness to the truth of the position which we have always asserted,(1013) that the intellectual causes selected for our special study are only one branch, and must be united to the emotional in order to attain a full explanation of the phenomenon of doubt.
Thus the analysis offered will have, it is hoped, a utility in the limited sphere which was claimed for it, in supplying the account of the tangled and subtle processes through which doubt has insinuated itself.
What then are the lessons which the whole history teaches? To discover these was part of our original purpose,(1014) as well as to learn the facts and find the causes; to satisfy the longings of the heart, no less than the curiosity of the understanding.
First, What has been the office of doubt in history? Has it been wholly an injury, a chronic disease? or simply a gain? or has it operated in both ways? Let us find the answer, by testing each of these theories of its office by means of the facts.
The first of the three is that which has generally been held within the Christian church. It dates from the first ages of the church, and witnesses to a valuable truth. The sacred care with which the Christians treasured the doctrine, and spurned the attempts of heretics to explain it away, proves the strength of the conviction that they possessed a definite treasure of divine truth, introduced at a definite period. Their very want of toleration,(1015) the tenacity of their attachment to the faith, is a proof of their undoubting conviction concerning the historic verity of the facts connected with redemption, and the definite character of the dogmas which interpreted the facts. In later ages however, the same idea of sacredness has been extended by the Romish church to the mass of error which Christianity has taken up into itself in the progress of ages; and in Protestant countries has led to the attempt to restrain the thoughts of men even on the secular subjects most remote from religion, where the ancient sacred literature seemed to suggest any indirect information. The doubt on the part of religious men, of any progress being made by free thought, has often expressed itself too in the affirmation, that the history of unbelief shows an exact recurrence of the same doubts, without progress from age to age, and an intimation that new suggestions of doubt are only old foes under new faces.
While Christians have thus generally regarded free inquiry in religion as wholly a loss; freethinkers have taken the very opposite view, and regarded it as an unmixed gain. The distinguished writer(1016) of our own time on the history of civilisation, whose premature death will prevent the fulfilment of his large design, has illustrated, with the clearness and grasp over facts which constitute some of his excellences, the office of scepticism, in securing for the human mind the political liberty and toleration which he prized so dearly. His central thought was, that civilisation depended upon the progress of intellect,(1017) the emancipation of the human mind from all authority save that of inductive science: he pointed out with triumphant enthusiasm, the services which he conceived that unbelief had performed, in rescuing Europe from degrading beliefs like witchcraft, and from the introduction of supernatural causes for natural events, and in securing in France, in the eighteenth century, the political rights of the lower orders against the claims of the church. Accordingly in his opinion scepticism was an almost unmixed boon.
Those who recall the outline of the history will probably think that each of these views, taken alone, is one-sided, and contains a partial truth. The review of facts shows that free thought has had an office in the world; and, like most human agencies permitted under the administration of a benevolent Providence, its influence has neither been unmixed evil nor unmixed good. It has been an evil, so far as in the conflict of opinions it has invaded the body of essential truth which forms the treasure given to the world, in the miraculous revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ; but it has been a good, so far as it has contributed, either directly to further human progress intellectually and socially, or indirectly to bring out into higher relief these very truths by the progress of discussion.
When, for example, Christian doctrine has been overlaid from age to age by concretions which had gathered round it, as was the case previously to the Reformation,(1018) it has been free thought which has attacked the system, and, piercing the error, has removed those elements which had been superadded. Or, when the church has attempted to fetter human thought in other departments than its own proper domain of religion, as when the ecclesiastical authorities disgraced themselves by vetoing the discoveries of Galileo,(1019) it has been to free thought that we owe the emancipation of the human mind. Or, when the church linked itself in alliance with a decaying political system, as in the last century in France, it was free thought that recalled to it the lesson to render to Caesar the things that were Caesar's, and to God the things that were God's. It is instances like these, where free thought has been the means of making undoubted contributions to human improvement, or of asserting toleration, which have led writers to describe it as almost innocuous, and hastily to regard the ratio of the emancipation of the human mind from the teaching of the priesthood to be the sole measure of human improvement.
In many instances also, free thought has indirectly contributed to intellectual good, in points where it has ran a greater risk, than in those just cited, of trespassing upon the sacred truths of religion; instances, in fact, where the benefit resulting has been owing to the overruling Providence which brings good out of evil, rather than to any direct intention on the part of those who have exercised it. Examples are to be found in those epochs, when some sudden outburst of knowledge compelled a reconsideration of old truths by the light of new discoveries. The awakening of the mind in the middle age, the Renaissance, the advance of modern science, the birth of literary criticism, are instances of such moments, wherein free inquiry has been a necessity forced on the mind by outward circumstances, not self-prompted. This attitude of inquiry, this exercise of a provisional doubt, was not, like that described, called forth merely by the circumstance that religion had received additions from error, but must have arisen even if the faith once delivered had been preserved uncorrupted. For religion being a fixed truth, while truth in other departments is progressive, it would have been impossible to avoid the necessity of comparison of it with them from time to time, in those spheres where it intersected the field occupied by them.
Such examples, indeed, are not restricted to Christian history, but are general facts of the history of the human mind. The fifth century B.C. was such an epoch in Greece;(1020) when various causes, social and intellectual, created a sudden awakening of the human mind to reconsider its old beliefs, and find a home for the new views of nature and of the world which were opening. The free thought of the Sophists was the scepticism of doubt, of distrust; the proposal to surrender, to destroy the old: the free thought of Socrates was the scepticism of inquiry, the attempt to reconsider first principles, to rebuild truth anew. In all such moments, investigation is indirectly the means of stimulating knowledge. The history of the progress of it, in reference to the difficulties which have beset the Christian church, shows us that the epochs of doubt have not generally been produced by unbelief taking the initiative in attacking old truths without some fresh stimulus, and repeating old objections so as to exhibit perpetually recurring cycles of unbelief. We have rather seen that doubt is reawakened by the introduction of new forms of knowledge; and though old doubts recur, yet that they come arrayed in a new garb, suggested by different motives, deduced from fresh premises, and accompanied by doubts of a new kind before unknown. In a practical point of view, frequently they may be thought not to differ widely in appearance from old ones, and to present similar effects as well as forms; but in a scientific one, they ought not to be confounded, inasmuch as they do not present identity of cause. There has been a slow but real progress in knowledge, and a slow but real change in the modes of applying it to Christian religion. The effect of the defence offered for Christianity is equally powerful in leaving its impress on subsequent doubt, as the progress of knowledge is in suggesting novelty of form. The sphere is narrowed, or the direction changed. If thought seems to have come round in its revolution to the same spot in its orbit, it will be found to be moving not on a circle, but on a spiral; slowly but surely approaching a little nearer to the great central truth, toward which it is unconsciously attracted.
The value of the free inquiry in this latter class of cases is not in the process, but in the results; in producing the branch of theology which sets forth the evidences of revealed truth. We have previously had occasion to imply that the Christian evidences are too often regarded as mere weapons of defence; like the battle-fields of history, monuments of the struggle of evil. Being a form of truth which would never have been called forth if the church had not been attacked, the apologetic literature is usually regarded, either as obsolete because controversial, or as useless for believers. Yet truths brought to light by it, though dearly purchased, are a real contribution to Christian knowledge. As miracles are a part of Christianity as well as an evidence, so apologetic literature, while useful in argument, serves the purpose of instruction as well as of defence.(1021) The controversy with heresy or unbelief has caused truths to be perceived explicitly, which otherwise would have been only implicit; and has illustrated features of the Christian doctrine which might otherwise have remained hidden. Though these good results have not been designed by unbelievers, and cannot therefore warrant the claim asserted for scepticism, that it is always innocuous, nor be set down to the credit of free thought as a spirit; yet they evidence the value of it as a method; the free thought, that is, which is inquiry and consideration, not that which is disbelief.
While therefore fully appreciating the reverent wish of Christian men to defend the truth with sacred tenacity, which leads them to regard all doubt with alarm; we can frankly allow the function and use of the phenomenon of doubt in history, when viewed as an intellectual fact. The use of it is to test all beliefs, with the view of bringing out their truth and error. But the good result has often, we perceive, been undesigned. It has frequently too been dearly bought, attained at an incalculable spiritual loss to the souls of those who have doubted. The result accordingly leaves untouched the responsibility of the doubter, and only shows the use which an allwise Providence makes free thought subserve in the general progress of the world.
But the heart asks a further moral. Though it derives satisfaction from perceiving that even features of history which seem the darkest, and moments the most perilous, bear witness to the presence of a benevolent Creator, who overrules all for the improvement of man and the progress of the church; it still claims to know what those limits are, where doubt must expire in awe, and speculation in adoration. It longs to exercise inquiry, and yet retain the Christian faith. It asks earnestly what does the history teach us concerning the doubts that are most likely to meet us in our lifetime, and what lessons are supplied by it in reference to the best mode at once of maintaining our own faith, and of leading those who doubt to the faith which we receive. The materials are supplied for an answer to these questions; probably even the materials for the final answer which the church can give to them.
We venture not to utter predictions in reference to the future; but the thought is interesting and solemn, that there seems some reason to believe that the weapons which doubt on the one hand, and religion on the other, must use in the final adjudication of their claims, at least in reference to all fundamental questions, are already in men's hands. Though our express denial that doubt perpetually recurs in cycles might cause it to be supposed that we should be inclined to anticipate the existence of future crises of faith; yet we have remarked that such crises are always produced by the opening of some unexplored field of knowledge, the introduction of a collection of new ideas or of a new spirit excited by new ideas, on subjects traversed either by the Christian religion, or by the Christian inspired books. A survey of the present state of knowledge would probably lead us to think that no field lies unexamined from which such new material can hereafter come. The physical sciences which, by the discovery of an order of nature and general laws of causation, have heretofore suggested difficulties in reference to miraculous interposition, and, by means of the discoveries in astronomy and geology, have come into conflict with the ancient Hebrew cosmogony, are not likely to suggest fresh ones distinct in kind from the past. If there be not ground for discouragement in science, nor for doubting that the present state of it, which seems to offer employment for originality of mind rather in tracking old principles into details than in ascending to new ones,(1022) is merely a temporary one, destined to pass away when some happy guess shall reveal the highest laws which now baffle inquiry; yet it is not probable that such an advance will traverse the province of religion. The survey of those regions where discovery seems most hopeful, will explain the reason of this assumption.
If the present examination of some of the subtler forms of matter or of force,(1023) and of their existence in other globes of the solar system than our own, should hereafter lead to a generalization which shall extend natural philosophy as widely beyond its present limits as the discovery made by Newton beyond those of his predecessors, yet these discoveries can have no bearing, favourable or unfavourable to religion, distinct in kind from that of present ones. If even a still mightier stride should be taken, and physiology be able to lay bare the subtle processes through which mind acts on body;(1024) yet the difficulty would only be an enhanced form of that which is already used to discredit the spirituality and immortality of the soul.
If we pass from the physical to the moral or metaphysical sciences, there is still less ground for expecting progress. True so far as they go, they offer no opportunity for enlargement, unless perhaps a more careful analysis, by means of the fertile principle of mental association,(1025) should cast light on the sensational source of ideas and the physiological side of mind; and even this would leave the independent evidence of the mental data, moral and intellectual, of religion, on the same basis as at present. Critical science again has attained such perfection, that there is no possibility of an entirely new range of critical thought springing up in reference to religion, such as arose when the German mind was creating the science of historical criticism.
Thus, though each branch of science,—physical, metaphysical, and critical,—offers grounds of hope to the labourer, there is no reason to fear that sceptical difficulties will be generated by any of them, distinct in kind from those which now exist. And a similar line of argument will suggest, that there is little reason to hope, on the other hand, for enlargement of the grounds of the evidence of natural and revealed religion. If this be the case, the materials are accordingly supplied, from which thoughtful students must make up their minds finally on the questions at issue. Indeed the survey of modern thought which we have already made, will have shown that men are already taking their place in hostile array; and will have revealed differences so fundamental in reference to religion, on subjects where no further evidence can be offered, that there can be little reason to hope for the alteration of the state of parties to the end of time. Never was there an age wherein Christianity had so real, so potent an effect as the present; yet never was there one which, while so largely moulded by it, was so really hostile to it.(1026) It is the hostility, not of opposition which regards Christianity as false, but of the criticism which views it as obsolete, and considers it to be one phase of the world's religious thought, the eternal truths of which may be assimilated without the historic and dogmatic basis under which its originators conceived it. Though the special forms of doubt that now exist derive their lineage, philosophical and historical, from the modern German and French sources, which we have studied in the last two lectures; yet it is in an older age of European history that the nearest general parallel to the present state of feeling may perhaps be found; and there is a deep truth in the analogy which the learned and excellent critic,(1027) who has recently made a special study of the struggle of classical heathenism against Christianity, has pointed out, between the feeling of philosophers in the second and third centuries of the Christian era and in the present time.
Amid very wide differences in tone and learning, there is this fundamental agreement between the age which was enriched with the accumulated learning of the old civilization, and the present, enriched with that of the new. There is the same spirit of naturalism; the same indisposition to rise to the belief of the interference of Deity; the same feeling of contempt for positive religions; the same sensation of heart-weariness,—the utterance as it were of the desponding feeling, "Who will show us any good?" the same lofty theory of stoic morality, and disposition to find perfection in obedience to nature's laws, physical and moral; the same approximation to the Christian ideal of perfection, while destroying the very proof of the means by which it is to be acquired. And if it be true that the state of intellectual men presents so marked a parallel, so in like manner the study of the arguments by which the early fathers in their apologetic treatises met the doubts of such minds, becomes a question of great practical as well as literary interest.(1028)
What then are the doubts which are most likely to meet us, either insinuating themselves into our own minds, or offering their difficulty to those who intend to become ministers of Christ? and what are the means by which they may be most effectually repelled?
The main difficulties may be summed up as three:—
(1) The question of the relation of religion, and more particularly of Christianity, to the human soul; whether religion is anything but morality, and Christianity its highest type.
(2) The question of the relation of the work of Christ to the human race, whether it involves a secret mystery of redemption known only to God, and hidden from the ken of man, except so far as revealed; or whether it is to be measured by the human mind, and reduced to the proportions which can be appropriated or understood by man.
(3) The question of the relation of the Bible to the human mind, whether it is to be that of a friend or a master; and its religious teaching to be a record or an oracular authority.
The history of recent doubt has brought before us some whose minds doubt wholly of the supernatural. In the case of a few of these, but only of a few, the doubt has passed into positive unbelief; their convictions have become so fixed that they manifest a fierce spirit of proselytism, and can dare to point the finger of scorn at those who still believe in the unseen and supernatural relations of God to the human soul. Between these and religious men the struggle is internecine. We can have no sympathy with them: we can rejoice that they retain a moral standard, where they have rejected many of the most potent motives which support it; but must tremble lest their unbelief end in thorough animalism; lest Epicureanism be their final philosophy. But there are many more whose tone is that of sadness, not of scorn; the temper of Heracleitus, not Democritus; whose souls feel the longing want which nothing but communion with a Father in heaven can supply, but who are so clouded with doubt, and retain so faint a hold on the thought of God's interference, and on the reality of the supernatural, that they are unable to soar on the wings of faith beyond the natural, either material or spiritual, up to the throne of God.
The history of such men generally tells of some mighty mental convulsion, which has driven them from their anchor-ground of belief. Sometimes the study of science, as it is seen gradually to absorb successive ranges of phenomena into the regular operation of universal law, until it removes God far away, and creation seems to move on without His interference, has been the cause:—in other cases philanthropic pity, musing on the sad catastrophes which daily occur, when the happiness and lives of innocent human beings are for ever destroyed by the stem unyielding action of nature's laws, leading the heart to doubt God's nearness, and the fact of a special Providence:—in other cases again, the study of the human mind in history, and the perception of the manner in which the gradual growth of knowledge seems to lessen the region of the supernatural, until the mind doubts whether the supernatural itself is not the mere idolum tribus, a mere giving objective being to a subjective idea, a truth relative merely to a particular stage of civilization. Such causes as these, producing a convulsion of feeling, may form the sad occasion from which the soul dates its loss of the grasp which it has heretofore had over the belief of God's nearness, and of religion; and mark the moment from which it has gradually doubted whether anything exists save eternal law; or whether a personal Deity, if he exist, really communes with man; whether, in short, religion be anything but duty, and Christianity anything but the noble type of it to which one branch of the Semitic people was happy enough to attain.
Doubts like these, where they exist in a high-principled and delicate mind, are the saddest sight in nature. The spirit that feels them does not try to proselytise; they are his sorrow: he wishes not others to taste their bitterness. Any one of us who may have ever felt chilled, as the thought insinuated itself, of the remote possibility of the perception of the machine-like sweep of universal law removing our belief of the guardian care of Him to whom alone we can fly for refuge when heart or flesh faileth, as to a Father as infinite in tenderness as in condescension, the friend of the friendless:—whoever has known the bitterness of the thought of a universe unguided by a God of justice, and without an eternity wherein the cry of an afflicted creation shall no longer remain unavenged, has known the first taste of the cup of sorrow which is mournfully drunk by spirits such as we are describing. And who that has known it would grudge the labour of a life, if by example, by exhortation, by prayer, he might be the means of rescuing one such soul?
Yet no task is so hard; argument well nigh fails, because the doubts refer to those very ultimate facts which are usually required as data for argument. If intellectual means are sought for remedy, it is philosophy to which we must look to supply it;—the philosophy which recalls man to the natural realism of the heart, to the simple unsophisticated trust in the reality of the spiritual intuitions, not as derived from sense only, nor merely as necessary forms of thought, but as the vision of a personal God by the human soul.
If however there is any field which requires the presence of moral means, it is this: and we who believe in a God who careth so much for man that He spared not His own Son for our sakes, may well look upwards for help in such instances; in hope that the infinite Father, whose love overlooks not one single solitary case of sorrowing doubt, will condescend to reveal himself to all such hearts which are groping after Him, if haply they may find Him. The soul of such doubters is like the clouded sky: the warming beams of the Sun of righteousness can alone absorb the mist, and restore the unclouded brightness of a believing heart.
The instances however are rare, where we meet with a chaos of faith, half pantheism, half atheism, such as that which we have just described. The great majority of doubters are persons who not only retain a tenacious grasp over monotheism, but even possess a love for Christianity. Their love is however for a modified form of it, different from that which the apostles taught. They cordially believe that God cares for man, and that He has spoken to man through His Son. They accept the superhuman, perhaps the divine, character of Christ; but they consider his life to be a mere example of unrivalled teaching, and of marvellous self-sacrifice; his death the mere martyrdom that formed the crowning act of majestic self-devotion. God's gift of His son is accordingly, in their view, to reconcile man to God; to remove the obstacle of distrust which prevented man from coming to God, by showing forth the love which God already bore to the world; not to remove obstacles, known or unknown, which prevented God from showing mercy to man. Christ is accepted as a teacher, and as a king, but not as a priest. His work is viewed as having for its purpose, to inculcate and embody a higher type of morality, not to work out a scheme of redemption. The ethical element of Christianity becomes elevated above the dogmatic. The sermon on the mount is regarded as the very soul of Christ's teaching. And in looking forward to the future of Christianity, the Christian religion is considered likely to become the religion of the world, merely because it will have ceased to be the religion of form and dogma, and become the highest type of ethics.
Views like these are common, and their compatibility with Christianity is defended in different ways:—sometimes by the bold attempt, as in the speculations of the Tuebingen school, to prove that primitive Christianity was such a religion as that just described; that the dogmatic Christianity of the early fathers was the addition made by philosophy to the first doctrine, the idola theatri, which haunted the minds of the early teachers; and that the books of the New Testament, to which we appeal to prove the contrary, belong to a later date than that usually assigned:—sometimes, with less consistency, admitting the antiquity of the dogmas, by representing that we can penetrate into the philosophy of the apostolic doctrine, and express in modern phrase, more clearly than in the ancient, the meaning which was intended to be conveyed:—at other times, by regarding all truth as relative to its age, and supposing that Christ's work was seen by the light of the sacrificial and Messianic ideas common in the apostolic times.
Connected with this fundamental disagreement with the ordinary teaching of the Christian church, on the central question of Christ's work and the nature of Christianity, is the cognate question concerning the relation of the Bible as a rule of faith. Its superiority to ordinary books is admitted, as cordially as the superiority of Christ's work to that of ordinary beings; but the religious contents of it, not to speak of the literary, are criticised, not indeed in a polemical, but in an independent spirit; and are measured in the manner just described, and approved or rejected in accordance with it.
Thus these two questions,—the atoning work of Christ, and the authority of the scriptures,—are the two forms of doubt which are most likely to meet us in the present age.
The expression of them in the clergy of any particular church may of course, if it be deemed necessary, be prevented by political means. A church, if regarded merely in a worldly point of view, is a political as well as a spiritual institution, where the members cede somewhat of individual freedom for the good of the whole; a compact where certain privileges and remunerations are granted, in return for the communication of certain kinds of instruction, and the performance of certain offices: and no one can object that the terms of a treaty be maintained; but the prevention of the expression of doubt is not the extinction of the feeling. And such acts of repression cannot reach the laity of the church, even if they touch the clergy. The inquiry accordingly here intended, as to the means for repressing such doubts, does not descend to the political question, but is a spiritual one; viz. if these doctrines are contrary to Christ, how can such thinkers be directed by moral means to the truth which we believe? or what reason can we give for the hope that is in us, which leads us to decline yielding up one iota of dogmatic Christianity to them?
The history of evidences offers a series of experiments, in which we may find an answer to these questions, by studying the different methods adopted in various centuries for spreading Christianity.
In the earliest age of the church, previous to the establishment of Christianity as the state religion, we observe the unaided appeal to argument, and especially the abundant use made of the internal evidence, or philosophical argument concerning the excellence of Christianity, as a means for arresting attention, preparatory to the presentation of the external and historic proof.(1029) In the long interval of the middle ages, the church was able to supplement or supersede argument by force; yet it must be admitted that the political and intellectual condition of the European mind was then, to a large extent, such as to receive benefit from the imposition of an external rule of religious authority and doctrine, in the same manner that individuals, when in a state of childhood, need a rule, not a principle; a law, not a reason.(1030) This method however was unsuited when the mind of Europe awoke, and when free thought could no longer be suppressed by force.
The history of evidences since the spread of modern unbelief exhibits not only the return to the ancient Christian weapon of argument instead of force; but not unfrequently to the ancient mode of presenting the philosophical proof prior to the historical.
An attempt of this kind was intermingled with the English school of evidences of the last century; and the argument of analogy used by Butler, if viewed as constructive, and not refutative, may be considered to have for its object to prepare the mind for accepting revealed religion, by first showing the probability of it on the ground of its similarity to nature. (48) And in the German movement, where the doubt thrown by criticism over the historical evidences even still more compelled the resort to the philosophical argument on the part of those who strove to defend the faith, we have seen various attempts to reconstruct Christianity from the philosophical side.(1031) Both methods, the philosophical and the historical, have had their place; but their use has varied with the wants of the age. In proportion as the pressure of doubt left less opportunity for the constraining force of the latter, the persuasiveness of the a priori moral argument has been used.
The history of the means which have been successful in removing doubts lends little support to the opinion which would save the faith by the sacrifice of the reason, or would imperil the truth of religion by throwing discredit on the immutability of moral distinctions, perceived by the conscience which Providence has placed in the human mind; to which the great writers on evidence have been wont to make their appeal; and which they have justly perceived must lie at the basis of the evidences themselves. "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
The two periods in church history among those here named, which offer most instruction to us in consequence of affording examples of the same class of difficulties as those which we encounter, are, the struggle in the early centuries, and that in Germany during the present. The line of argument which was used in the former of these crises is seen in the Alexandrian school of the fathers in the third century, and that used in the latter, in the school of Schleiermacher. The study of the life and mental development of Schleiermacher's disciple, Neander, would be in this view one of the most valuable in history.(1032) He was himself led by the mercy and providence of God to the knowledge of Christ; his own spirit was rescued from doubts such as we describe; his life was spent in trying to save others from the like difficulties, and to plant their feet upon the rock upon which he himself stood: and it is only the secrets of the great day that will declare the number of the souls that were led by his teaching to find Christ and salvation.
In both these periods the method adopted for recommending Christianity was, to carry out the plan used by St. Paul at Athens,(1033) to lay a basis for the proof of it by developing the moral and philosophical argument.
In the Alexandrian period the method used was, to show that all former religions, all former philosophies, were not unmixed error, but contained the germ of truth, which Christianity gathered into itself; to exhibit Christianity as the fulfilment in the field of history of the world's yearnings, and thus to awaken the response of the heart to the narrative of its message.(1034) Reasons, to which allusion has before been made,(1035) may have lessened the utility at that period of the positive evidence, which proves the fact that a Redeemer had been given; but we cannot doubt that, independently of this circumstance, a deep philosophical reason suggested the stress which was laid on the moral argument, on account of its suitability for convincing the opponent;—a reason indeed to which the history of some of the fathers gave a personal force in the fact that it was by this manner that they had themselves been led to accept of Christianity.(1036)
In the German period the same method has been adopted, with the corresponding alterations suggested by modern philosophy. Not to mention the instructive attempts of the school of Kant to find a philosophy from the subjective side of religion, in the denial of its possibility if attempted on the objective, and to exhibit the limitations of the human mind in speculating on the subject of religious method; nor again to mention the bold attempt of Hegel, to which we have previously taken exception as opposing the simplicity that is in Christ, to work out this forbidden problem, and find a philosophy for Christianity on the objective side: we allude to that which has marked the disciples of Schleiermacher to find it on the subjective as a life, and fact, and doctrine, which fulfils the yearnings of the individual heart.
In pursuing a method of this kind, the appeal must be made to the inextinguishable feeling of guilt; to our personal consciousness of a personal judge; our terror at the sense of justice; our penitence for our own ill deserts; the deep consciousness of the load of sin as an insupportable burden from which we cannot rescue ourselves; and to the guilt of it which separates between us and God, as a bitter memory that we are powerless to wipe away.(1037) When these facts are not only established as psychological realities, but appropriated as personal convictions, then the way is prepared for the reception of Christianity. The heart, by realising the personality of God, is at once elevated above naturalism or pantheism. It feels that in Christ's incarnation it finds God near, the infinite become finite, God linked to the heart of a man; and in his atonement it finds God merciful. Its deep instinct leads it to reject the theories which would pare down the marvel of that mystery. Its consciousness of guilt tells it of an obstacle which it cannot believe to lie merely in itself, but attributes to the mind of the infinite Spirit which it wants a method for removing. No mere example of majestic self-sacrifice proclaiming God's love to man suffices to solace its sorrows. Some mighty process, wrought out between the Son and the almighty Father, is instinctively felt to be necessary, as the means by which God can be just and yet the justifier of the sinful. And when philosophy has thus prepared the heart by its appeal to the yearnings of the soul, and brought it to long for the very remedy which Christianity supplies; then the historic argument can be properly introduced, to afford the solid comforting assurance that the remedy wanted has really been given; that miracles and prophecy are divine evidences, attesting the truth of the claim that certain teachers at a particular period received superhuman aid to reveal certain religious truths. (49)
The work of persuasion however is not yet completed; for, ere the heart can fully trust with adoring thankfulness, there are no less than three questions which must still be answered, if the object be to direct doubt instead of suppressing it, and to lead a sinner to Christ by the bands of love.
The first will be the literary one, as to the trustworthiness of the books of the New Testament, which are the record of this teaching.
The second, the inquiry into the fact whether the books teach, and whether the early church taught, dogmatic Christianity as the church now presents it.
The third, though of such a nature as in a great degree to be suppressed by the claim of authority already conceded to the apostolic teachers, may still rise up to harass the mind if a further answer be not supplied: it refers to the reason that we possess for believing, that if these teachers asserted such truths as dogmatic Christianity, and especially vicarious atonement, these doctrines were a real verity, and not merely a passing form under which the truth presented itself to their minds, to be explained away by after ages into less mysterious and more self-evident truths.
The first of these questions, which concerns the trustworthiness of the books, has been most thoroughly tested by the historical criticism of Germany. The data are thus presented for forming a final decision, which in the opinion of most persons will probably be widely different from that which has been arrived at by critics in that country. Yet, supposing we should meet with a doubter who accepted all the views of the Tuebingen school,(1038) there are nevertheless four books of the New Testament, the genuineness of which the most extravagant criticism fully admits; viz. the Epistles of St. Paul to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the two to the Corinthians. These four would be sufficient to establish the main articles of dogmatic teaching as presented in the creeds of the Christian church, and the main outline of Gospel and Jewish history as facts on the reality of which St. Paul and his converts relied, and for which he was staking his life. Suppose the Gospels and the Acts(1039) involved in the historic uncertainty which these critics have attributed to them; yet we possess in the Galatians the outline of the life of Paul, the statement of the reason why Paul accepted a religion which he detested. The incomparable argument of Lyttleton(1040) irrefragably proves his honesty. He cannot have been a deceiver. Let the reader of the Galatians say if he was deceived. The two Epistles to Corinth attest the history of the early church; the Epistle to the Romans its dogmatic beliefs. If there is a doubting heart, thoroughly imbued with the most destructive criticism, unable to find historical standing-ground in scripture, he may surely find it in the study of these four works of St. Paul.
The second question, whether the great features of the dogmatic teaching which we receive, and especially the doctrine of vicarious atonement, are taught in the New Testament, admits of satisfactory settlement. The negative of this position has been asserted, in consequence of the alleged fact that this particular doctrine is rather expressed implicitly than explicitly in the earliest fathers; which is to be accounted for by the tendency, while contending against Jewish monotheism, or heathen theism, to put forward the messiahship and incarnation of Christ, in comparison with other religions, rather than his atoning work.(1041) Careful study will soon decide a question of this kind, if directed first to the text of scripture; and secondly, as is most important in all questions of the history of doctrine, to the fathers, as the historic witnesses at once to the teaching of their day, and to the traditions of the teaching of an older age than their own.(1042)
Supposing however that the authenticity of the books be granted, and the existence in them of dogmatic teaching, as we now hold it, be conceded; how are we to answer the final misgiving which might arise, that a doctrine like the atonement was not merely truth relatively to the age in which it was taught, to be surrendered if it conflict with the moral sense? If indeed miraculous attestation, the authority of supernatural assistance, be conceded, this doubt will be extinguished in most minds by such an admission; but how is it to be fully met, consistently with our object to point out how a doubter may be directed, who desires not to have the natural revelation in his heart crushed, and yet who does not claim, like the deists, that he must comprehend that which he believes, but only that at least he must apprehend it?(1043)
We concede the authority of the moral sense to check all dogmas that are not shown to be part of the teaching of men supernaturally inspired; and we should feel surprised if there were a direct conflict between God's voice through the apostles and God's voice through the human conscience. Probably it could be shown that no such conflict exists; but if it did, we should be inclined to ask whether the moral sense, infallible in what it forbids, is equally so in what it asserts:(1044) whether it cannot possibly admit of such improvement as would cause the difficulty not to be felt; or, if felt, to be cancelled by one of those mental antinomies,(1045) the existence of which is undeniable: or whether there is not still independent and contemporary evidence, to which appeal can be made, to corroborate the apostles' teaching.
Let us, for example, suppose that we have come to the conclusion, that the apostles taught the doctrine of the atonement; and that our moral sense is puzzled with the justice of the system, of the transfer of merit implied in those analogies under which the mysterious verity is unveiled to us, and with its apparent incompatibility with a corrective theory of punishment: the thought of error, or of merely relative truth, in the apostles' teaching in such a matter, is forbidden to the mind of any one who admits the least divine inspiration in them, from the fact that this is the innermost and most sacred truth of their creed. We could imagine the early teachers left unaided in all matters irrelevant to religion; nay, by a stretch of supposition, possibly even in some unimportant things appertaining to religion itself: but a mistake on the work and office of Christ,—the very point which, of all others, they were commissioned to teach;—an ingredient of error insinuating itself here, is utterly improbable. If even the inspired authority were denied, the improbability would be hardly less apparent. For this was not a doctrine of the head, but of the feelings; not a fact coldly believed, but appropriated; the voice of the inmost consciousness. If the story of the apostles be true, that the belief of this doctrine, and the prayers founded upon it, had made them changed men; if too their history testifies to the reality of their professions of extraordinary holiness; we could not, even if we did not know from their writings that they were men who were accustomed to the careful analysis of their own feelings, conceive a fatal falsehood to lurk here, in a point where the mixture of inference with consciousness must have been reduced to a minimum.
In this particular case of the atonement, there is however an independent proof of the correctness of the apostles' teaching, through the corroboration of it which is offered by the Christian consciousness of the church. We have before had occasion(1046) to explain the introduction of this idea in the teaching of Schleiermacher, and to protest against the use which he proposed to make of it as a source of truth, independently of the Christian consciousness of the apostles and first teachers; as the gradual source of doctrinal progress, the oracular utterance to this age, as the apostolic consciousness was to the first age.
But there is a deep truth in it, if we use the Christian consciousness, not to supersede scripture, but as the living corroboration and interpreter of it. The Spirit of God still works on the hearts of men morally, as upon the apostles of old; not by conferring the intellectual gift of inspiration, but in the moral gifts of penitence, of conversion, of pardon, of holiness. Holy men now feel the Spirit of God striving with them as the apostles did, and appropriate the excellence of Christianity, and feel its renovating power now as then. Therefore the attestation of these men, such as is collected by an induction founded on their biographies, to the fact that when they analyse their secret feelings with the most exact care, they recognise that the pardon which they receive is through the mercy of Christ; that their moments of most hallowed communion with the Father-spirit are when they approach the throne of mercy through the mediation and intercession of another, Christ Jesus; that the victory vouchsafed to them over temptation, is by His merits; that their heart finds no Father for one moment except through him;—this evidence, if it can be accepted, is an independent corroboration of dogmatic truth. It may be explained away, by denying the truth of their analysis, or by referring their feeling to mental association; but it cannot fail to have a persuasive force for those who have faith in the instinctive utterances of the human soul: and the reliance upon it is not more extraordinary than that on which we depend in cognate subjects like aesthetics, where the taste of practical skill is trusted. Christian consciousness thus becomes a new source of facts in theological study; the living voice of the church for illustrating and confirming in some degree the utterance of men of old, who spake that which was revealed to their souls by the inspiring Spirit.
Such are the chief steps which the history of evidences, in the contest with early heathenism, as well as in the recent struggle in Germany, seems to point out as the most likely to lead a doubter to Christ; and such the order in which the philosophical and historical evidences ought to be respectively presented, if our object be to give due heed to the desire which an inquirer evinces to appropriate the truth which he believes. Such too, if the opinion already advanced concerning the future of modern doubt be correct, seems to be the final answer which the church can give. Without undue compromise, commencing with the internal evidence, we thus lead men to the external, and make philosophy as it were the schoolmaster to lead to Christ.
The third question of those which we enumerated as likely to press upon us, viz. that which refers to the inspiration of the scriptures, requires only a few words; inasmuch as the treatment of it has already, to some extent, been implied.
This question has been elevated, since the Reformation, to an importance which it hardly possessed before. Since the authority of the Bible has been substituted for the authority of the church, it has been usual to regard the scriptures as the mode of leading men to Christ, instead of considering the knowledge of Christ received through the ministrations of the church as the clue to interpret scripture. Logically, the scripture is the rule of faith, the ground of the church's teaching; but chronologically, the teaching of the church is the means of our knowing the scripture.(1047)
A caution hence arises, that we should not be willing to allow preliminary difficulties, which a doubter may have in reference to the scriptures, to deter us from leading him straight to Christ, and then allowing him by the light of this teaching to reconsider the question of the scripture. The difficulties will generally be found to have reference to the historical and literary portions, rather than the doctrinal, or those portions of the literature which contain the doctrinal. If indeed they refer to the doctrinal, they must be answered at the outset in the manner already shown. If however to the literary, they will be viewed in a different light, if the doubter has been brought to appreciate the central truths of Christianity, from that which they will bear if wrangled out on the threshold of his approach. In the last century indeed, the comparative importance of the doctrinal parts of scripture over the literary was so perceived, when doubts were pressed on the attention of the clergy by the pertinacity of the deist controversialists, that many of the eminent writers restricted the plenary inspiration of the scripture writers to the appropriate matter of the revelation, the supernatural communication of the miraculous system of redemption; and conceived that it was no derogation from the supreme religious authority of the sacred writers, but rather compatible with the loftiest idea of the providential adaptation of means to ends, to suppose them unassisted in literary matters, such as the transcription of genealogies, the reference to natural phenomena, or the literal exactitude of quotations. The jewel of divine truth did not, in their opinion, sparkle less brilliantly because it was handed down in a frame of antique setting. (50) In the present day there is a strong reaction in religious minds in favour of the opposite view, identical with the one held in the seventeenth century by the Puritans. The reaction is only a special instance of the general movement in favour of authority, political and ecclesiastical, which has taken a sudden advance throughout the religious part of Europe, in opposition to the subjective tendency already noticed in secular literature.(1048) This special view however is dictated by a noble motive, a watchful fear lest the loss of a single atom may weaken the whole structure. Whether it be true or not is not at present under consideration, but merely the caution which ought to be used in pressing it upon doubters at the outset of an approach to the subject of religion. If the object be really to draw them to Christ, we must become all things to all men; and, while not mutilating the heavenly message, take heed not to repel the weak believer from coming to the Saviour, by interposing unnecessary literary obstacles.
It is very common to hear or to read the dilemma put before the doubter, that he must accept everything or nothing in Christianity and the Bible.(1049) Such an alternative, though dictated by a commendable motive, is likely to prove ineffectual. The Dilemma is a form of reasoning which rarely persuades. Its object is rather to silence than to convince. It is more a trick of rhetoric than an argument of logic. It may make a person pause by showing him his apparent position; but the heart, if not the head, can always find means to escape from an alternative which it dislikes. And in this particular case the use of it involves the risk of overlooking the different degrees of importance which belong to different portions of religion, and the very different degrees or evidence on which different portions of it rest. Though the smallest circumstances in reference to it are of importance, yet it were less vital to doubt the miraculous inspiration of a genealogy than the authoritative teaching of an epistle; or to doubt the date of a book than its contents. No doubt is unimportant; but it were merely repeating the sophistry of the Stoics, in making all sins equal, to deny gradations of importance in doubts; gradations which however are not here put forward to defend eclecticism, but to enforce the lesson, that, in dealing with a doubter, the consideration of this fact must guide us in the order in which we present the evidence of different parts to his mind. It not unfrequently happens that the perusal of the holy scripture is the means of drawing a soul to Christ; the volume in its solitary majesty telling its own tale: or, to speak more reverently, applied to the heart by the Spirit of God: but generally, if a doubter's heart be filled with historical and critical doubts, he must be led through Christ to the Bible, rather than conversely, and through the New Testament to the Old. If once he can be brought to the perception of a Saviour for sinful man, his doubts will assume a new aspect, and will adjust themselves into their true place, or perhaps find their own solution.
Yet, when we have used all methods of argument which the survey of the history has given us reason to believe may prove useful, it were affectation to conceal our belief in the perpetual operation, secret and unobserved, of an invisible monitor and persuader, the blessed Spirit of God. Though we may look to philosophy to prepare the way, by exciting an appreciation of the wants which Christianity supplies, and an apprehension of the suitability of Christianity as the perfection of our spiritual nature; we must confess that it is to the unseen leadings of the Spirit of God that we trust, to make the heart feel the truth as well as perceive it, and love as well as appreciate it. If we accept the fact of God's interference to effect man's salvation, and regard it as His special will to bring men to the knowledge of Christ, and trust His promise of assistance to the church,(1050) it is not enthusiasm, but the most rational faith, to expect divine assistance to attend constantly on the efforts made to spread the truth which He has been pleased to reveal; not to interfere indeed with the fixed laws of the rational faculties, but to remove prejudices of the heart which might blind the apprehension, and to hallow the soul into a temple for the enshrinement of His truth.
More especially if it be true, as we have perpetually insisted, that there is a large region for the influence of emotional causes of doubt, in addition to the intellectual, which have been the subject of our special study, we may well believe that here is a field where the Holy Spirit alone can enter, and in which He only has the power to operate. Evidence, as evidence, is apprehended and tested by the intellectual faculties; but whatever is the subtle influence, consciously or unconsciously exercised by the emotions, in a matter where the evidence is probable, not demonstrative, this offers a sphere where the help of an all-loving God may be hoped for to dissipate the alienation of prejudice or indifference. Paul may plant, and Apollos may water; but it is God that giveth the increase.
We have now considered the lessons taught by the history, both as to the moral function of free thought, the forms of it which are most likely to meet Christians in the present day, and the means which seem most useful for guiding a doubter into truth.
The history may teach a final lesson to us as Christian students, not so much in reference to leading others to truth, as in relation to the means by which we can attain it ourselves.
In all the days of peril through which the church has passed, the means used by those who have striven to find the truth, and become a blessing to the world, have been,—study and prayer. In the solitude of their own hearts, by quiet meditation, they have sought to understand the utterance of the inspired volume; and to secure by prayer the illuminating influence of the divine Spirit, to cause them to behold wondrous things in God's law.(1051) And thus in an age of coldness they have kept the flame of divine love burning with unextinguished glory on the altar of their hearts; and in an age of questioning have been able to burst forth from their prison-house of doubt, and gaze with the clearness of unclouded faith on the truth once for all delivered to the saints. If, in the dark night of doubt or sin which has spread its veil over the world, there have been stars that have shown to the pilgrim steadier and clearer light than the other luminaries of the heavens, the cause has been that they have reflected some rays of the Divine glory, which had been concentrated in the sunlike brightness of the apostolic inspiration.
If we have found that the present age offers its peculiar intellectual trials; and if we feel ourselves set in the midst of so many and great dangers; let us not be paralysed by the consciousness of them, so as to deem the search for truth unimportant, or anticipate that it will be unsuccessful; but rather be led to increased energy in striving to follow the example of those who have overcome by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.(1052) Let us realise the solemnity of our position as responsible and immortal beings. We are creatures of a day, soon to pass into eternity; placed here to prepare ourselves for that unknown world into which we shall carry the moral character that has been stamped upon us here; and capable, whilst we are here, of doing untold good by a godly example, or of contributing to the ruin of the souls of our fellow men. How important, both for ourselves and others, that we should learn and appropriate that truth which is to be the means of our salvation! how important for ourselves, lest we be castaway! how important for others, lest we help them to build a structure of wood, hay, stubble,(1053) which shall be consumed in the day of the Lord!
Let us strive to use the two methods of finding truth,—study and prayer. Let us gain more knowledge, and consecrate it to the investigation of the highest problems of life and of religion; especially applying ourselves, by the help of the ripest aid which miscellaneous literature or church history can afford us, to the study of the sacred scriptures. But above all these intellectual instruments, let us add the further one of prayer. For prayer not only has a reflex value on ourselves, purifying our hearts, dispersing our prejudices, hushing our troubled spirits into peace; but it acts really, though mysteriously, on God. It ascends far away from earth to the spot where He has His dwelling-place. The infinite God condescends to enter into communion with our spirits, as really as a man that talketh with a friend. The Saviour of pity will Himself look down upon us, and condescend to become our teacher, and give us the purity of heart which will lead us into truth. Our own trials, our own struggles for truth and holiness, the desire to know Christ and to be known by Him, will excite our deep pity for those who endure the like temptations, and prepare us for effectually ministering to the good of others. And if the struggle in our own hearts be long, and there be moments when we seem to have our Gethsemane; let us cleave the closer, with the more simple trust, to our heavenly Father; still imploring Him to grant us in this world knowledge of his truth, and in the world to come life everlasting; assured that the clouds shall one day disperse, and the vision of truth be unveiled to us in the bright light of the eternal morning.
I shall be well content that all that I have said to you be forgotten; and when these lectures take their humble place in the series of which they form a part, deriving an honour, not their own, from the great names with which they are associated, I shall be willing that they be consigned to neglect; if I can only hope that this final exhortation to prayerful study may remain fixed in the memory of any one of those that now hear these words, or may impress the mind of any chance student who, in traversing the same ground, may hereafter have occasion to peruse them, at a time perhaps when the voice that now speaks shall be hushed in the tomb, and the spirit shall have gone to its account.
The lectures are now ended. May God forgive the errors, and sanctify any truth that has been uttered to His honour! The faults are mine: the truth is His, not mine. To Him be the glory.
Note 1. p. 3. Subdivisions Of Historical Inquiry.
A few words may explain the distinctions intended in the text.
History has been properly distinguished by Macaulay into two branches, the artistic or descriptive, and the scientific or analytic. (Essays, vol. i. 2, on Hallam.) If viewed in the former aspect, history aims as far as possible to reproduce what has been, to recover a picture of the past. Hence it is obedient to the two conditions which rule all art,—precise outline in details, and preservation of perspective in the combination. In the latter, theory in some slight degree steps in, but theory dictated by the instinct of taste rather than by reflection. It is in this branch, in which the historian is the critic, that the border line lies between art and science. For it is hard to measure the precise amount which is due in the appreciation of facts respectively to artistic intuition and to reflective analysis.(1054)
Supposing the facts to be thus given, it is the province of the science of history to ascertain their causes. Two living writers, Mr. Mill (System of Logic), and Dr. Whewell (Philosophy of Inductive Sciences), have given an account of the logic of science. That of the latter is more suitable to the conception which we are here forming of history; for history is exactly one of the class of sciences which he calls "Palaetiological." (vol. i. b. x.) It requires first, that we recover the record of the successive stages of facts, the narrative of the past, before searching for the causes. The causes are then to be sought by transferring backward for the explanation of the past those which are at present operating. The search will probably exhibit three successive stages in the process of examination. First, causes will be found which are the mere antecedents of the events, the mere links which connect the phenomena. Next, a cyclical law of the recurrence of the facts is perceived, such e.g. as Vico's well-known law concerning the development of political society. Such a law as this, supposing it to hold good without exception within the limits of experience, is what Mr. Mill calls an "empirical law." (Logic, vol. ii. b. iii. ch. xvi.) Next, this law must be analysed into its causes. Mr. Mill gives three forms which this third stage of analysis may assume in science. (Id. vol. i. b. iii. ch. xii.) Probably in history it will generally assume the one of the three in which the complex result is analysed into its simpler component elements. (Id. 2.)
This inquiry would complete the study of history as a science. But when we deal with moral as distinct from material relations, we feel that there is a question of philosophy as well as science, one of ethics and metaphysics, which rises above all lower ones. We instinctively wish to measure the responsibility of the moral agents who have contributed to work out the results which have been studied. We turn to the personal and biographical question for the purpose of the ethical lesson. The theist also asks another question. Believing that nature and man are the work, direct or indirect, of a personal Creator and Governor, of infinite power and goodness, he strives to search out the purposes of Providence, hoping to find in the drama of universal history the solution of the plot which he could not expect to attain by the study of a portion of it.
Such are the ideas which are intended in the text.
Note 2. p. 4. The Comparative Study Of Religions.
The comparison of Christianity with other religions was necessarily forced upon the Christian church by contact with the heathen world.
We meet in the early fathers with two distinct opinions; the one held in the Alexandrian school, that the heathen religions were imperfect but had a germ of truth, and that philosophy was a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ; the other chiefly in the African school, that they were entire errors, and an obstacle to the conversion of mankind.
In the middle ages, contact with Mahometan life (see Lect. III. p. 88) created a sceptical mode of comparing Christianity with other creeds; circumstances compelling toleration, and toleration passing into indifference. A similar spirit is also seen in the hasty attempt of the French philosophers of the last century to resolve all religion into priestcraft.
It is only in still more recent times that the first scientific conception of a comparative study of religion arose. Even in Herder the comparison is aesthetical more than scientific, and relates to the comparison of literatures more than of religious ideas. Benjamin Constant (De la Religion Consideree dans sa source, ses formes et ses developpements, 1824) seems to have been the first who really suggested a serious psychological examination; and hence there soon arose the idea of comparative theology analogous to comparative anatomy. His spirit has pervaded French literature subsequently. The religious speculations of the eclectic school give expression to it; e.g. Quinet (Le Genie des Religions, vol. i.); and the mode of contemplating religion in Renan (Etudes de l'Histoire Religieuse) is based upon it. Caution in using the method is necessary on the part of those who believe in the unique and miraculous character of the Jewish and Christian revelations. In Lect. III. (p. 87) we have given an enumeration of three modes; the one true, the others false; in which Christianity may be put into comparison with other creeds.
Mr. Maurice's Boyle Lectures on the Religions of the World refer to this subject; and some useful remarks exist in Morell's Philosophy of Religion,(c. iii. and iv.) But the book most full of information is the interesting Christian Advocate's Publication, of the late archdeacon Hardwick, Christ and other Masters; a work full of learning and piety, unfortunately left unfinished by the tragedy of his premature death in August 1859. In the parts published he has compared Christianity with the Egyptian and Persian religions (part iv.), with the Hindoo (part ii.), and the Chinese (part iii.); and he was preparing materials for its comparison with the Teutonic, and with those of the classic nations.
Note 3. p. 4. Zend And Sanskrit Literature.
The purpose of this note is to indicate the sources of information in reference to (1) the Zend and (2) the Sanskrit literature, for illustrating the comparative history of religion.
1. It was about the middle of the last century (1762) that Anquetil du Perron brought manuscripts to Europe from Guzerat, written in the Zend or ancient Persian tongue. For some time the relation of the language to the Sanskrit was not understood. The great scholar to whom are due both the study of the tongue and the editing of the Yacna, was Eugene Burnouf. The work just named is the first of the three works which make up the Vendidad Sade; parts of which possibly go back to a period almost coeval with Zoroaster, i.e. perhaps the sixth century B.C. Two other works exist for the study of the Persian theology, though much more modern in date,—the Desatir of the ninth century A.D., and the Dabistan of the seventeenth,—which both contain fragments of ancient traditions embedded in their texts. The Avesta, of which the Vendidad is one of the oldest parts, has been edited by Spiegel. References to the older literature concerning it may be found in Heeren's History of the Asiatic Nations, vol. i. ch. ii.