« ElőzőTovább »
of the comparative criticism of religions and myths, it is impossible not to feel that an implicit belief in the Old Testament narratives is exposed to most serious difficulties. Any creed, therefore, which is built up on the assumption of the perfect authenticity of the earlier Scriptures is likely to be rudely shaken.
Either great injury or some important gain ought certainly to accrue to our theology from such a disturbance of the traditional doctrine concerning creation and the Bible. We have reason to hope that the influence exerted will turn out in the end to be a beneficial
It is well that we should be driven out of narrow and mechanical conceptions of the action of the Creator. Such conceptions are natural and inevitable in a certain stage of knowledge ; whilst we are children we may speak, think, and understand as children. But the childish forms of thought are only excusable, they are not to be permanently clung to. The moment it is possible to rise above them they begin to be restrictive, confusing, and injurious. It is not really good for our faith that we should look upon the world as going by chance or fate, and upon God as a powerful Being who can interfere at will with its natural course. The kind of religion founded on such notions is not the best suited to raise and purify and strengthen the soul. The scientific view constrains us to think of God as in everything or in nothing. If we will not be without God in the world, we must learn to regard nature, in its order and tendencies, as Divine. We are now under less temptation to fix the Creator at some beginning of things as his place; his present work is more interesting than his past, that which he is about to do still more interesting than that which he has done. God is about us and before us as well as behind us. If we find it difficult, as it is idle to deny that we shall, to associate the sense of personal relations and personal action with a Creator whose work we see chiefly in that energy which sustains the progress of the world, we have the more inducement to think of God first in the character in which he claims our Christian worship, as the Father of our spirits, desiring to bring us into harmony with his perfect mind. It is the knowledge of God as the Righteous Father that concerns us most; to know him as a Creator comes in the next degree. The faith taught us by Christian theology is that he whom we know through Christ is the life and order of the universe; and our apprehensions of the mode in which God is related to the universe will rightly vary with our knowledge of the universe itself. It would have been wise of Christians not to tie themselves down to anything more technical and precise on this subject than the broad “Pantheism of St. Paul.
* “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all." him, and through him, and unto him, are all things."
It cannot be denied that the tendency of the scientific view of nature is adverse to a belief in miracles. Under its influence we require that a miracle should introduce itself to us with a strong recommendation before we consent to pay any attention to it at all. It is true now, as has been alleged, that instead of a miracle commending a cause, the cause must commend the miracle. We shall believe in the wonders wrought by Christ because we believe in Christ. But in so doing we shall only be taking the mental attitude which our Lord himself approved. That men should believe because they saw signs and wonders was a thing worthless in his eyes. But he was willing that those who believed in him should see illustrations of his saving power, and so have their faith increased and enlightened.
The change of attitude, again, with regard to the Bible, which science is forcing upon us, only brings us back to the Apostolic principle. The faith of the Christian Church in its first days certainly did not repose upon an infallible book. “Not the letter, but the Spirit," was St. Paul's maxim, and he included in “the letter” the words of documents which he held sacred. It cannot, indeed, excite any surprise that the reverence of Christendom for the books contained in the canon of Scripture should have passed into an idolatry of the Book; or that Protestantism, which had emancipated itself from the despotism of Rome by appeals to the Bible, should have substituted the infallibility of the Bible for that of the Church. But however natural was the letter-worship, its effect was none the less to numb and cramp the faith of Christendom. It was the design of God that the world should be governed by the Spirit, and not by texts. The sacred volume is therefore exhibited in the face of the world, to the incredulous dismay of the general multitude of Christians, as not wholly trustworthy. The Christian will no longer be able to avail himself of the short and easy method of the syllogism, “All that is in the Bible is true, this is in the Bible, therefore this is true.” But the loss ought to be a great gain. The Word of God interpreted by history and life is a grander object of faith than even the Bible. Theology ceases to be the mere exegesis of documents, and becomes an attempt to explain and commend to the human intelligence the spiritual realities with which men have to do.
I have alluded to St. Paul's habit of associating the word "all" with the name of God. On the whole, it may be contended that the New Testament in general is free from the mechanical notions of creative action and interference, from the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, and from the cosmological theories, which science has had to condemn in the traditional theologies. The New Testament will not hinder but encourage us in aiming at the
most spiritual apprehensions of Divine energy. It testifies of order as the necessary outcome of the Divine mind in Nature, and the order it points to is not dead or stagnant, but instinct with life and ever working itself out in higher and more perfect forms, having its seat in the loftiest provinces of being, but including in its dominion whatever is most outward and transitory.
Seeing thus how much our formal thoughts about God may owe to movements which do not invoke his name, and which come into collision with the theology of their time, we shall surely turn with increased reverence to him who is the God of the world, as well as of the Church, and who actually governs whilst we are speculating about him. Our faith, we are reminded, is in God himself, and to know God is our supreme attainment, from whatever quarter the knowledge may come. The Divine nature rises above systems and speculations, the legitimate object of these efforts of the human understanding, but never comprehended by them. From those heights a new awe should descend upon our faith.
But let us notice how the standing of theology is affected, as these powers of the spiritual would act and react on one another. In the first place, we are under no necessity to admit that Christian theology is being disintegrated or undermined by the encroachment of secular ideas. Decayed and unstable props, in which false confidence had been placed, are removed, but the foundation stands sure. If theology is improved, if its conceptions of the Divine ways are made deeper and wider and more real, then we have good reason to contend that it is strengthened, and not weakened. If we retire from some positions which are now untenable, we see that they were never wisely occupied, and we remove to those which we ought to have held all along. Theology, like other sciences, is not injured by correction. On the contrary, to purge it of errors is to do it the greatest possible service. There is the more reason for taking this hopeful view, because we can not only see that science is dangerous rather to the fungoid growths than to the health and life of the old theology, but are further able to show that those larger apprehensions which seem to be produced and are at all events urged upon us by modern progress, were never wholly wanting to theology. As we read what has been left us by devout Christians, from the Apostles downwards, we constantly find what we had supposed to be modern thoughts anticipated * in their reflections. In the second place, we are
* I have been struck by an unexpected instance of this anticipation given in Miss Wedgwood's book on John Wesley (p. 78). The following passage occurs in the writings of John Gambold, a clergyman who joined the Moravians, and who died in 1771 :“However common it is, it must ever be atheism to term any event natural, with the intent to deny that it is divine. ... It is impossible to conceive any religion trust, resignation, or gratitude towards the Deity, upon any other foundation” (than that
encouraged to believe in theological progress, because we can see where the forces are by which the advance is to be promoted. It is clear that we cannot trust the cause of theology to the religious instincts of mankind, or to the expository labours of divines. From such agencies corruption and formalism are always to be dreaded. The hope of theology is rather in movements outside of its own province. As human life becomes richer and human knowledge is enlarged, it will be supplied with materials for new growth. There is an actual progress in the world, and in this we may claim that theology should share. It will be the interest of religious men to promote and to study secular progress, in order that they may know the ways of God more truly. We may still be persuaded that special inspiration will be given to the most earnest faith and devotion; but the inspiration will often come through the channel of suggestion from the outside world; and the best thoughts of the few will not be the ruling assumptions of the many, until they can enter into combination with those ideas of the age by which common life is moulded.
J. LLEWELYN DAVIES.
of the acknowledgment of all things as divine). “For what a dreary void are we left in, what a sullen and total suspense of all those sweetest emotions of the soul towards its Maker, which are to it what respiration is to the body, the moment the least exception is imagined from the general rule that the finger of God is in all things !' As on the one hand, with respect to such an exceptional instance, there would be no intelligent and gracious Being for us properly to honour, love, and trust in, to supplicate and thank, in that event; so on the other, if but some things--were they ever so few-did come to pass without him, more might, and then why not all ?”
“Miracles were such simple instances” (of God's dealing with man) “as by their peculiar evidence were intended to serve for a key to a thousand less clear; such uncommon events as were designed to explain what is called the common course of naturethey were calculated to claim on the part of God that regular and continual agency which he has in the elementary motions and sublunary events.”
THE MISTAKE OF HONEST DEMOCRATS.
from entirely distinct foundations, both logical in their way, argumentatively tenable, and capable of being maintained by sensible men with sincere conviction. The one is based upon the doctrine that rule ought to be in the hands of the wise and educated, the mentally, morally, and socially élite of the nation, since the mass of the people can never be sufficiently enlightened or instructed to be qualified judges either of ends or means in political questions. This is the aristocratic or autocratic theory; it prevailed everywhere in the earliest times, and was then probably unassailable both in premisses and conclusion, and may perhaps, as a mere abstract thesis, be accepted as virtually sound in all times. The other assumes that, as the great body of the citizens of a community advance in civilization, the day comes when they are sufficiently qualified, partly by training and partly by instinct, to govern themselves, or at least to determine how and by whom they will be governed; when, in fact, though not as well educated or perhaps as wise and able as kings, nobles, and wealthy men of leisure, their greater singleness of view towards their own interests, and closer perception of them, more than compensate for their inferior intellectual training and capacity; and when, therefore, the majority of the people may safely be intrusted with and have a right to claim the reins of power. This is the democratic