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ART. I. — BASIS AND SUPERSTRUCTURE. AN ADDRESS BEFORE THE MINISTERIAL CONFERENCE, MAY 29, 1867.
BY REV. ORVILLE DEWEY, D.D.
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BRETHREN OF THE CONFERENCE,
I shall venture to speak to you in this discourse on subjects that belong to the time. This opens, doubtless, too large a field to enter, without some definite path to pursue, or some distinct points of view being taken from which to survey it; and I hasten to say at once, that the few thoughts I have to offer will come chiefly under the heads of Basis and Superstructure, - of the foundation in religion and the apbuilding. These themes present a framework of thought too vast, indeed, for discussion, and designed only to limit it. But I desire to look at this great edifice of religion, — to " go round about Zion, and to mark well her bulwarks ;' both because of the dangers that seem to assail it, and because I am sure of its stability. Never, certainly, was every thing in religion called in question, from the lowest foundation to the topmost stone, as it is now; and yet never, I firmly believe, was there so much true religious faith in the world as now. If this seems to be a contradiction, I do not understand it to be so: because the foundation-truths of religion, though they are questioned, are questioned by very
TOL. LXXXIII. - NEW SERIES, VOL. IV. NO. II.
few; while the general faith is gravitating towards them more and more, is taking deeper hold of the very roots of religion, and is, therefore, becoming stronger and more vital. Very scepticism to-day is often more vitally religious, than was the old Orthodox believing of the Middle Ages; whose stability is so much vaunted by some, and whose decadence is so unnecessarily lamented over by others. I think that I see the general mind sinking deeper and deeper into the truest religious convictions, through the rents of controversial theology, through the chinks of Biblical historic evidence, and the breaking-up of ecclesiastical authority.
I have known well enough what it is to doubt; and to doubt concerning the whole dogmatic creed in which I was brought up. I once gave a year to retirement and study to examine this creed. I examined it; I gave it up, point by point: but never for one moment did I lose my peace of mind. I knew, or thought at least, that my earthly prospects were endangered by my inquiries; but my inmost tranquillity and deepest joy were never for a moment disturbed by all my doubts and difficulties. And why? Because I felt something within me — an assurance, a certainty — that lay beneath all doubts, beneath all dogmatic creeds. Nay, I say it firmly, beneath not only all dogmatic creeds, but beneath all writings, beneath all Scriptures, beneath all church ordinance and authority, beneath Christianity, beneath the mission of the Christ himself, there is, in the solemn recesses of every human soul, a foun. dation of religion and religious truth. Jesus himself spoke to that inner, that diviner sense of things; else as a religious teacher he could not have spoken at all. And if I be reminded that Paul says, “ Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ," I answer, this is true of the Christian system. Jesus Christ is the foundation of that. But that system reposes on a foundation beneath it, — the everlasting truth that underlies all religions. When it is said that an architect lays the foundation of a building, – temple, tower, or pyramid, - it is forgotten, perhaps, that this rests on a deeper and broader foundation, the foundation and basis of the world.
I hardly know why I should insist upon this position with any special strength of statement. It is the simple and acknowledged truth, I think, in our religious philosophy. Certainly it is in every other. All knowledge, all science, rests upon an original basis in human nature. All art, all perception and culture of the beautiful, is referred to an original sense of beanty in the human soul. When we speak of the most remarkable instances of human development; when we speak of Shakspeare, we are thinking of the wonder of his genius more than of his culture, or means of culture. And even if we were, with the utilitarian philosophers, - not all dead yet, — to refer all moral and religious sentiments to sensation connected with the love of happiness, low as the basis would be compared with the grand primal intuitions of humanity, we should still point to the original constitution of human nature. I am not denying, by any means, the importance of culture, of the upbuilding : of this I shall come to speak. I am not denying that the capacity would be created in vain, unless it were filled with something; but I am insisting, first, upon this point, – the capacity, the foundation.
But now what, more precisely, is this foundation? It is intuition. It is an intuitive sense of moral obligation. It is an intuition of right, of justice, of goodness, and the beauty of goodness. It is also an intuitive idea of God, and comes so near to an absolute proof of his existence, that all mankind have, in one form or another, received it. And, again, the doctrine of immortality cornes, if not from a positive intuition, yet from a notable instinct of humanity; proved to be such, says Guizot, by its having existed among all people, from the rudest to the most civilized. Human degradation may sometimes appear to lend but poor countenance to that faith. “Such poor creatures as men are, — many of them at least, - can they be immortal ?" Some one, reporting of Coleridge's conversation, says that “ he talked one day of the sense of immortality in man, and of its universality, which, in his opinion, caused it to partake of the nature of instinct in animals. The only time I ever saw Lord Byron, he added, he pointed to a man in a state of brutal intoxication, and asked
if I thought that a proof of an immortal nature. Your inquiry, may lord, is,' I answered." -"And so it was," adds the reporter; "for it was the natural instinct shrinking with abhorrence from that degradation, that apparent death of the soul.” These, then, are the foundations of religion; of natural religion, of all religion, laid and imbedded, I believe, in the human soul by the band that made it.
I wish now to single out from this grand, original category of faith, one point as the subject of some further argument upon the foundations of religion. I mean the belief in God, and especially in him as a righteous Being, a good
For the oratio
Why it is, that our nature, our whole mind, demands this Being as the object of its faith and adoration; why every thing within us "cries out for God, for the living God," — I will not undertake to say or explain. It may be because a boundless capacity and reach of thought naturally demand a boundless object, that a love such as we are capable of, naturally soars to an infinitude of love, and cannot stop short of it. It is not — of this I am sure - a mere desire of infinite favor and protection. There is a deeper element, a diviner passion, in our being, that seeks its great Original. And cer. tain it is, that, if that central Light be extinguished, all in us is dark and desolate. Strike out moral intuition from our religion, and the corner-stone is gone. Strike away the doctrine of immortality, and its loftiest pinnacle falls. But strike at the filial faith in God, - break that down, and every thing tumbles into ruins.
It cannot be without the profoundest concern, therefore, that every thoughtful man must look into those questions concerning the Supreme Nature, which our minds naturally raise, and especially under the guidance of modern science. It is not the “germ” doctrine of Professor Darwin that troubles me. But when we think of the extent of the universe; when we carry our views beyond our own sidereal system, so inconceivably vast, and embrace thousands of other systems, of perhaps equal extent; and when we reflect that all this may be but one section of the unbounded creation,
what are we to think of the Being, who made, who sustains, and who governs, the infinite whole ? Our minds sink overwhelmed in that boundless abysm of existence; and we feel as if we knew, and could know, nothing concerning it, nothing but that it is. "I am," seems to be all that it can tell us. Jonathan Edwards argues, that if any, the least event, thought, or motion in the universe were unknown to God, or uncontrolled by him, all would go to ruin. But what is that omnipotence, what that omniscience, which comprehends every event, every mind, every prayer, every thought, every act, every animalcule, and every animalcular motion, that takes place, at every moment, in the universe ? Can any intelligence conceivable by us, can any moral attribute conceivable by us, belong to such a Nature? Is not such a Being, as has been contended, strictly and utterly “unknowable," " unthinkable," by us? If utterly unknowable, if in every respect so, then we are orphans; we are, to all spiritual intents and purposes, atheists, “ without God and without hope."
But I do not yield to such a conclusion. The argument for it is grounded on the essential imperfection of all our ideas of intelligence and goodness. These we must not ascribe to God; therefore, it is said, we can ascribe nothing to him but bare existence; nothing, i.e., of an intellectual or moral nature. But I make here a broad, and wbat seems to me, a very material distinction. Our mental processes, embracing succession, reasoning, comparison, steps of thought, and necessarily implying limitation, are one thing; quite another is our intuition of truth and right, which does not involve any reasoning nor imply any limitation. Intuition, grand in every way, is grandest of all in this. It is the archetype of the Divinity stamped on the soul. It is the symbol of eternal truth and right. It is the image of God.
If it were not so; did the Infinite Intuition of the true and right, differ essentially from ours; did the Infinite Intelligence differ entirely from what we understand by intelligence ; did the Infinite Goodness, or what we call such, differ altogether from all we understand by goodness; might what we worship as infinite Goodness, be Infinite Malignity for aught we know;