Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

more than one of our ablest contributors have their home. Let me be allowed here to mention in particular Principal Dawson, of Montreal, and Professor Morris, of Michigan University-very able men both in different lines. Here, in this Institute, some of the ablest defenders of the Christian faith have trained themselves for their work. Two recent Bampton Lecturers are among our leading members. Both Dr. Irons and Prebendary Row have contributed a series of most valuable papers to the Transactions of the Institute. It is just possible even that Mr. Row might not have been Bampton Lecturer but for the Victoria Institute. Certain it is that his papers read before this Institute have served as a valuable propcedeusis for certain sections of his volume of lectures. The Institute which has been enriched by papers from such Christian students of philosophy and science as the gentlemen I have named; as our founder and first honorary secretary, Mr. Reddie, so suddenly removed from us; as that able man of science and exemplary Christian, the late Rev. Walter Mitchell, one of our original vice-presidents; as Professor Kirk, of Glasgow; as the late Professor Main, the Radcliffe Observer; as Dr. Thornton; as Professor Birks; as our truly learned and very acute colleague, Mr. J. E. Howard, one of the earliest members of the Institute, and one of the ablest opponents of evolutionary atheism in whatever form, is an association which has not been created in vain. The number of its members has vastly increased during the last five years, and now presents a brilliant and impressive array of names, including not a few of the most distinguished in this and other countries. I venture to anticipate for the Institute still growing success, and that it will proceed from conquering to conquer.

Whilst I was in the midst of writing this address an article appeared in the Saturday Review so apposite in its line of thought and in its conclusions to the plan and outline which I had laid out for myself, and had begun to fill up, that I may perhaps be excused for quoting from it some sentences. If I had not already half written this paper before I fell in with the article, it might naturally been thought that I had borrowed from it my main line of thought and some of my illustrations. But in fact the coincidence is a case of independent agreement. The article (April 13) is entitled

Morality and Religious Belief,” and the sentences I have selected for quotation are as follows:

“As to the alleged indications of an approaching collapse of dogmatic belief," says the writer, “it should be remembered that appearances of this kind may very easily be taken for a great deal more than they are worth. That scepticism, both in its negative and positive forms, is more outspoken than formerly makes it a more noticeable and impressive phenomenon, but does not therefore prove that it is really more widespread or influential than it was, e.g., in the eighteenth century. The open avowal of sceptical views is partly a recoil from the more earnest and explicit avowal of religious convictions, and partly a consequence of it. The plain-spoken frankness or fierceness of sceptical literature testifies among other things to the acknowledged vitality of the religion which it assails. Men do not care to waste their sturdiest blows on a prostrate foe. Those who think religion is really losing its hold on the world might fairly be asked to account for the prominent place occupied by religious considerations in all the great wars and social revolutions of the present century, not excepting the critical struggle in the East which is going on before our eyes at the present moment."

English Christianity may even gather reassurance from the case of France. There is vastly more religious faith in France, I venture to think, at this moment than there has been since the terrible revolution. May I not go further, and say that there is more religious faith and feeling now than for a hundred years past ? And yet Christianity in France stands at every disadvantage. It is identified in its popular form with superstitions which are not only idolatrous in their aspect, but heathenish in their character. In popular belief it has been identified with all the wrongs and tyrannies which helped so largely to provoke the revolution.

On the other hand, atheistic unbelief has claimed identity in France with all liberty, whether moral or intellectual, or civil and political, and with all enlightened progress. Nor have the claims of religion been recommended, or its position improved, by the tactics of Ultramontanism during the last five-and-twenty years. Nevertheless, in spite of all these disadvantages, the strongest instincts of national self-preservation have gradually linked themselves into a steadfast array and union against atheistic principles and theories. The strength of Ultramontanism, that which has made it so fòrmidable a power, that which has compelled the nation, though it fears and hates it, yet to tolerate and even to a certain extent to indulge it, is that the nation dreads and loathes atheistic politics even more than it fears and hates Ultramontanism. The nation cannot live without some faith, some religion, some ground of conscience, some basis of morals. It craves a religion which shall not be Ultramontane,

or puerile, or superstitious, or, above all, tyrannical; but, if it must elect between unbelief and Ultramontanism, it will not, at all events, choose atheism for its creed, and atheistic communism for its civil and political basis. Alas! for the country which has before it such a dilemma. Alas! for the country where the strongest champion against the name and spell of Voltaire is a Dupanloup! Still, notwithstanding such disadvantages on the side of faith in its controversy with unbelief, it is a thing to be noted that, while at this moment the municipal Council of Paris remains unhappily true to its principles of democratic and atheistic irreligion, and had resolved to celebrate, with a statue and all public honours, the centenary of Voltaire, as representing the enfranchisement of the human mind from the yoke of priests and priestcraft, the French Republican Government has intervened to prevent any official action of the nature intended on the part of the Farisian Council. The nation at this point is in sympathy with the Government, not with the municipal officials of Paris the brilliant but unhappy city of the Commune.

The career of the famous-five-and-twenty years ago the epithet might have been infamous-Madame Dudevant, George Sand, is in this connection full of interest and instruction. That daring and very gifted woman waged war for years against all social decencies and all forms of religious belief. In her later years, however, she greatly modified her views, and altogether changed her tone. She endeavoured to come to terms with Christianity; she professed some form of quasiChristian faith ; she even in the end, it is said, became reconciled to the Church, and died within its pale. Her case seems to me to be in a sense typical. She was eminently a representative women. Woman though she was, she was as justly representative of the genius of France as any man could have been, perhaps, indeed, more so. On the other hand, the case of Comte, grotesque as it is in some of its aspects, and mournful as it is throughout, teaches the same lesson as that of Madame Dudevant. Even France, even the French mind and character, cannot live without a religion, without a worship. The travesty of faith and worship adopted by Comte is a tribute even to Catholicism. He did homage to the faith of his country even by his owu ritual of the worship of humanity. Thank God, English Christianity may command a more reasonable allegiance than French Catholicism. The dilemma of France is not our dilemma, and England will not reject the Christianity of England for the sake of French or even English Comtism or Agnosticism. It will accept no religion of humanity which deprives every man living of

:

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

seen,

humanity's one hope and consolation, and would despoil the human soul of the essential prerogative of humanity, of that moral character and power which constitutes man's proper definition and being.

German Communism, Russian Communism, are just now showing us the nature of the fruit which cannot but grow from the root of Atheistic or Pantheistic unbelief. Such results as we see at this moment cannot be without their effect on the English mind. They will strengthen the national reverence for the religion of God as revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Christianity, therefore, I conclude, is by no means losing its hold of England nor of the world. Less protected by legal defences than formerly, it possesses far more intrinsic strength and energy. It has taken a much larger and stronger hold than at any former period of the great body of the people, including the best-educated classes. It has a life and energy, a zeal and enthusiasm altogether unprecedented. In Parliament it counts far more illustrious and devoted adherents than in any former age. It maintains an array of philanthropic enterprises, it inspires and maintains an amount of practical beneficence such as the world had never

All this is done in the face of an active infidel propagandism which is no longer fettered as in former times, but is free to do its worst. Let no one, then, fear for Christianity. Nearly 150 years ago, Butler, in the advertisenent to his “Analogy," said : “ It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious." ACcordingly, he goes on to say that those reputed to be

people of discernment, treated it as a subject only fit to provoke " mirth and ridicule.” And yet a few years later John Wesley was converted, and Methodism began its race. Butler's faith and Butler's arguments survive, while the “people of discernment,” and their supercilious unbelief with them, have passed into oblivion. Writing some years earlier than Butler, the accomplished Berkeley thus describes the infidelity of his day, “Moschon," he says, “ hath proved that man and beast are really of the same nature; consequently, a man need only indulge his senses and his appetites to be as happy as a brute. Gorgias hath gone farther, demonstrating man to be a piece of clock-work or a machine; and that thought or reason is the same thing as the impulse of one ball against another. Cimon hath made noble use of these disa coveries, proving as clearly as any proposition in mathematics,

[ocr errors]

that conscience is a whim, and morality a prejudice; and that a man is no more accountable for his actions than a clock is for striking. But the masterpiece and finishing stroke is a learned anecdote of our great Diagoras, containing a demonstration against the being of God. I am assured that it is as clear as daylight, and will do a world of good, at one blow demolishing the whole system of religion.” “Our philosophers," it is added, "are the best-bred men of the age, men who know the world, men of pleasure, men of fashion, and fine gentlemen.” The fashion of scepticism, indeed, 150 years ago was considered especially attractive and suitable in the case of smart and cultivated young people. "You may now com. monly see,” remarks one of the speakers in Berkeley's dialogue, “what no former age ever saw, a young lady, or a petit maître, nonplus a divine, or an old-fashioned gentleman, who hath read many a Greek or Latin author and spent much time in hard methodical study.”

So wrote Berkeley in his “Minute Philosopher. But Christianity survived the fashion of unbelief which that exquisite dialogue so inimitably portrays, and with such serene and beneficent mercilessness reduces to its true colour and character-as a fashion of vanity and arrogance and absurdity, equally empty and demoralizing, as contrary to the reason and well-being of man as to the majesty of God. The esprits forts were put to the rout. Christian faith not only rose superior to their impieties, but, what was far more, revived from the lethargy and formalism into which it had sunk.

When we look back to the age in which Berkeley and Butler lived, we do not wonder that men should have been tempted to despair of Christianity. But how great and how re-assuring is the contrast now! If even in such an age Christianity asserted its Divine character and claims by the revival which followed, having first refuted and shaken off, even in that dark hour, the attacks of its critics and its foes, how unworthy would it be to doubt for a moment of the vitality, of the advance, of the victory of Christianity in the present age!

C. BROOKE, Esq., F.R.S. I have much pleasure in moving "That our best thanks be presented to the Rev. Principal Rigg, D.D., for the Annual Address now delivered, and to those who have read papers during the session.” I think Dr. Rigg's Address is especially valuable, as showing that the rise of Christianity in our own land has been coeval with the advance of learning; and it fittingly comes after those valuable papers which have been read during the past session (cheers). Most will probably agree with Dr. Rigg,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »