صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني



its share in the general effect. At this time, in the maturity of mankind, as with each man in the maturity of his powers, the great lever which moves the world is knowledge; the great force is the intellect. St. Paul has told us, “ that, though in malice we must be children, in understanding we ought to be men; and this saying of his has the widest range. Not only in the understanding of religious truth, but in all exercise of the intellectual powers, we have no right to stop short of any limit but that which nature - that is, the decree of the Creator — has imposed

In fact, no knowledge can be without its effect on religious convictions ; for if not capable of throwing direct light on some spiritual questions, yet, in its acquisition, knowledge invariably throws light on the process by which it is to be or has been acquired, and thus affects all other knowledge of every kind.

If we have made mistakes, careful study may teach us better; if we have quarrelled about words, the enlightenment of the understanding is the best means to show us our folly ; if we have vainly puzzled our intellects with subjects beyond human cognizance, better knowledge of ourselves will help us to be humbler. Life, indeed, is higher than all else; and no service that man can render to his fellows is to be compared with the heavenly power of a life of holiness. But next to that must be ranked whatever tends to make men think clearly and judge correctly. So valuable, even above all things (excepting only godliness), is clear thought, that the labors of the statesman are far below those of the philosopher in duration, in power, and in beneficial results. Thought is now higher than action, unless action be inspired with the very breath of heaven : for we are now men, governed by principles, if governed at all; and cannot rely any longer on the impulses of youth or the discipline of childhood.




HEN geologists began to ask whether changes

in the earth’s structure might be explained by causes still in operation, they did not disprove the possibility of great convulsions, but they lessened the necessity for imagining them. So, if a theologian has his eyes opened to the Divine Energy as continuous and omnipresent, he lessens the sharp contrast of epochs in revelation, but need not assume that the stream has never varied in its flow. Devotion raises time present into the sacredness of the past; while criticism reduces the strangeness of the past into harmony with the present. Faith and prayer (and great marvels answering to them) do not pass away ; but, in prolonging their range as a whole, we make their parts less exceptional. We hardly discern the truth, for which they are anxious, until we distinguish it from associations accidental to their domain. The truth itself may have been apprehended in various degrees by servants of God, of old, as now. Instead of, with Tertullian, “what was first is truest,” we may say, What comes of God is true: and he is not only afar, but nigh at hand; though his mind is not changed.

Questions of miraculous interference do not turn merely upon our conceptions of physical law, as unbroken, or of the Divine Will, as all-pervading; but they include inquiries into evidence, and must abide by verdicts on the age of records. Nor should the distinction between poetry and prose, and the possibility of imagination's allying itself with affection, be overlooked. We cannot encourage a remorseless criticism of Gentile histories, and escape its contagion when we approach Hebrew annals; nor acknowledge a Providence in Jewry, without owning that it may have comprehended sanctities elsewhere. But the moment we examine fairly the religions of India and of Arabia, or even those of primeval Hellas and Latium, we find they appealed to the better side of our nature; and their essential strength lay in the elements of good which they contained, rather than in any satanic corruption.

Thus considerations, religious and moral, no less than scientific and critical, have, where discussion was free, widened the idea of revelation for the old world, and deepened it for ourselves : not removing the footsteps of the Eternal from Palestine, but tracing them on other shores; and not making the saints of old, orphans, but ourselves partakers of their sonship. Conscience would not lose by exchanging that repressive idea of revelation, which is put over against it as an adversary, for one to which the echo of its best instincts should be the witness. The moral constituents of our nature, so often contrasted with revelation, should rather be considered parts of its instrumentality. Those cases in which we accept the miracle for the sake of the moral lesson prove the ethical element to be the more fundamental. We see this more clearly if we imagine a miracle of cruelty wrought (as by Antichrist) for immoral ends; for then only the technically miraculous has its value isolated : whereas, by appealing to good WORKS” (however wonderful) for his witness, Christ has taught us to have faith mainly in goodness. This is too much overlooked by some apologists. But there is hardly any greater question than whether history shows Almighty God to have trained mankind by a faith which has reason and conscience for its kindred, or by one to whose miraculous tests their pride must bow : that is, whether his Holy Spirit has acted through the channels which his providence ordained ; or whether it has departed from these so signally that comparative mistrust of them ever afterwards becomes a duty. The first alternative, though invidiously termed philosophical, is that to which free nations and evangelical thinkers tend: the second has a greater show of religion, but allies itself naturally with priestcraft or formalism, and not rarely with corruptness of administration or of life.

In this issue converge many questions anciently stirred, but recurring in our daylight with almost uniform * accession of strength to the liberal side. Such questions turn chiefly on the law of growth, traceable throughout the Bible as in the world; and partly on science or historical inquiry : but no less on the deeper revelations of the New Testament, as compared to those of the Old. If we are to retain the

* It is very remarkable that, amidst all our biblical illustration from recent travellers, Layard, Rawlinson, Robinson, Stanley, &c., no single point has been discovered to tell in favor of an irrational supernaturalism; whereas numerous discoveries have confirmed the more liberal (not to say, rationalizing) criticism which traces revelation historically within the sphere of nature and humanity. Such is the moral, both of the Assyrian discoveries and of all travels in the East, as well as the verdict of philologers at home. Mr. G. Rawlinson's proof of this is stronger, because undesigned.

« السابقةمتابعة »