vail in the Unitarian denomination; and the logical goal of this progress—for we can not understand him otherwise—is open and avowed infidelity. From such a consummation he recoils, and denounces in several passages of extraordinary ability, the Rationalism and Individualism of the age which are leading to such a result. He has arrived, and we think it a remarkable achievement, considering his point of departure, at some very clear conceptions, most nobly expressed, of Church life and the importance of historic Christianity.

It is impossible for Dr. Bellows to escape altogether the embarrassment arising from the inconsistency of his views with his position. "Whenever he strives to reconcile the two, he seems to us obliged to use words in a sense wholly at variance with their true signification. Dr. Bellows is usually exceedingly intelligible; but when he strives to harmonize a Unitarian position with an acceptance of historic Christianity, he is led into statements which mean nothing unless the signification of the words employed is utterly and entirely changed. What meaning, for instance, can possibly be attached to such statements as these, if the words are used in any sense which they have been accustomed to bear? "I thoroughly believe that the Trinitarian theology of the historic Church, outworn and embarrassing now, was helpful, because relatively true to the times in which it arose; and that the ideas which lay in the minds of the authors of the Athanasian and Nicene Creeds were essential ideas; but ideas which, if they add any thing to a devout and scriptural Unitarianism, (which is doubtful,) contradict nothing in it!" "An evangelical Unitarianism is the most Scriptural Trinitarianism extant!" This language shows conclusively, in our opinion, that Dr. Bellows can not resist the conviction that the testimony of the historic Church is in favor of Trinitarian and evangelical, theology. But the attempt to reconcile this conviction with any possible Unitarian ground is utterly and forever hopeless.

The fact is, that a permanent system on the old Unitarian basis has become impossible. It is subject to two opposite attractions, and to one or the other it must yield. It. must lapse into Infidelity, or return into the bosom of historic Christianity. We hold that there is eventually no escape from one or the otfier result, and any attempt at compromise is an attempt to harmonize things in their very nature irreconcilable.

We can not sympathize, even in its qualified form, with the satisfaction of Dr. Bellows in a movement which has led to such results. We could admit that this rationalistic movement Las had in some respects a salutary effect. It has undoubtedly softened the harsh and repulsive features of a theology against which it was a natural protest. It is certain that it has proclaimed many noble truths about which historic Christianity had of late been silent. But how can we regard a movement otherwise than with profound sadness and disapprobation which has unsettled the religious convictions of men only to lead them into spiritual doubt and alarm, and 'has been the means of producing, in the degree in which it exists, that very suspense of faith, which has furnished Dr. Bellows with the theme of his discourse?

To this question of the existence of a suspense of faith throughout Protestantism, we wish to ask the special attention of our readers. If there is really such a pause in the faith of the Protestant world, as Dr. Bellows seems to imagine, and we are all really on the brink of a denial and rejection of all that we have heretofore regarded as Christian truth, we are in a most pitiable and wretched position. But, to our mind, the age in which we live, is characterized by a restoration rather than a suspense of faith. This wo propose to establish by reference to some of the most remarkable facts and movements of our times.

In order to appreciate more fully the restoration of faith in the present age, we must glance for a moment, at the state of things, in this respect, which has passed away. The eighteenth century was one of almost universal skepticism. The influence of Hobbes and Hume had alienated the philosophy of England from the Gospel. In Germany the way was prepared by Goethe especially, for the naturalism of Paulus, the assault of Strauss upon the credibility of the New Testament, and the dreary pantheism of Hegel. In France, materialism was carried to its most frightful consequences by Condillac. Rousseau substituted sentiment for religion, and Yoltaire, with the hatred of a demon for Jesus Christ, blasphemously called upon the genius and the learning of the world to help him "crush the wretch."

This literary and philosophical apostasy had its results, not only in the entire alienation of vast numbers from Christianity, but also in the perversion of the Gospel. Where there was not open and avowed infidelity or secret unbelief, there was a vague and empty system of religion scarcely superior to the mere religion of nature. Evangelical religion was well nigh extirpated in France. In Germany, but few here and there proclaimed the truths of the Gospel. la England, as Mr. Wilberforce says: " Preaching had degenerated into mere dry and barren ethics." In this country, a natural reaction from the hard and metaphysical Calvinism in which alone the Gospel was presented, fell in with the skeptical tendency of the age, and evangelical religion was in the most imminent danger of extinction. There was a time when even the avowal of evangelical sentiments required no little amount of moral courage.

That there has' been a prodigious change in this respect, no one can doubt for a moment. It is wonderful that it should have escaped the notice of Dr. Bellows, or if noticed by him, that it should not have modified his whole view of the present "suspense of faith."

We do not deny, indeed, that there is still a lamentable and widely-diffused want of faith in the fundamental facts of Christianity, and that very much of the literature and science of the age is hostile to religion. The question between Dr. Bellows and us would be, in the first place, one of degrees; but we should differ from him entirely as to that element which is most prominent and powerful in the Protestant world. Nobody understands better than Dr. Bellows that there is an historic Christianity. This historic Christianity, we claim, exists to-day; and exists with constantly increasing power and influence. We claim that it is now what it has been essentially in all ages—and that it is always consistent with itself, thus affording a splendid illustration of the words of Horace:

"Servetur ad imum
Qualis ab incepto processerit, et sibi constet."

The present position and influence of this historic Christianity we propose now to consider.

This historic Christianity, we claim, exists to-day, and is the most powerful element in the Protestant world. Its present position and influence we propose now to consider.

In order to estimate the position and influence of evangelical Christianity, which is identical, as we have described it, in its grand features, with historic Christianity, we should naturally consider it first in its relations with the Philosophy of the age.

In this respect some most remarkable results have been attained. Undoubtedly the metaphysician who has exercised the most decided influence upon the age is Immanuel Kant. His principal work, the Kritik reiner Vernunft, is an investigation as to the nature and capacity of the human faculties, and the kind and degree of knowledge which is possible to man. Sir William Hamilton, who, in the most important particulars, is the logical successor of Kant, has transferred the fundamental principles of the Kantian philosophy into the common-sense philosophy of Scotland, and continued the investigations of Kant in the same direction. The result of this inquiry, prosecuted by one of the most subtle metaphysicians the world has ever seen, is that our faculties are so limited that we can neither affirm nor deny in reference to the absolute and the infinite, and that our knowledge is hemmed in between contradictory extremes, both of which are inconceivable, and yet one of which must be true. This principle can be illustrated by a reference to the doctrine that the universe began to exist. This doctrine is evidently inconceivable, but so also is the contradictory doctrine that the universe did not begin to exist, and yet by a necessary law of thought, one or the other must be regarded as true.

Mr. Mansel, in his "Limits of Religious Thought" has applied this philosophy to the doctrines of revealed religion, and has furnished materials, it seems to us, for a most powerful argument in behalf of evangelical truth.

The Hamiltonian Philosophy has demonstrated that there are certain things which are inconceivable, which nevertheless must be true. The conceivable, therefore, has ceased to be

Vol. VI.—45

the limit of the true. This destroys, at once, the whole class of objections against the doctrines of evangelical religion, on the ground that they are inconceivable, and leaves us to accept or reject them according as they are supported or not by appropriate evidence.

The next position which it enables us to take is this. If it is impossible for the human faculties to reach the infinite, inasmuch as the infinite is inconceivable, all systems of religion which rest upon human speculation are baseless. It is an utterly abortive attempt for the mind, in the exercise of its own powers, to affirm or deny any thing in reference to the infinite. This principle sweeps away all those systems of religion which claim to be preeminently rational. It is true that evangelical religion is placed, in this respect, upon the same level with every other system; but the advantage, which evangelical religion derives, is that, although it is left without defense, on the ground of human reason, it is also secured against attack. The field of discussion is thus very much narrowed. The controversy between those who hold evangelical views and those who do not, must turn upon the interpretation of the Scriptures. If this philosophy is true, we come clearly and inevitably to this result, that so far as certainty in reference to our relations to God is concerned, the Scriptures are not merely our chief but our only guide.

If the appeal then is made to the Scriptures, there is one fact, which is most significant as to the result. It can not be disputed that the evangelical system is the only one which has ever been willing to rest its claims exclusively upon the Word of God. No matter in which direction men have wandered from evangelical truth, they have always wandered from the Bible also. Not merely, let it be understood, from the evangelical interpretation of the Bible, but from the authority of the Bible itself. On the one hand, they have placed Reason, and on the other the Church above the Bible. They have added to or they have taken from the "Word of God. So that it has become perfectly clear that evangelical religion alone is in harmony with the Bible just as it is. If any other system is adopted, the decrees of the Church must be taken as equal in

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »