« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
no absurdity in his premises, nor to any want of logic in his reasoning, but to the nature of the human mind as God made it. This done, we are informed that there are limits to human thought, that "the provinces of Reason and Faith are not coëxtensive; that it is a duty enjoined by Reason itself, to believe in that which we are unable to comprehend." The lecturer then proceeds to discuss the leading doctrines of the Christian Faith-the Existence of God, the Trinity, the Union of two Natures in the Person of Christ, Divine Providence, Miracles, and so forth-the argument in each case being to show that the doctrine is beyond the comprehension of man's Speculative Reason, and must, therefore, be believed without question. In the seventh lecture the same course of reasoning is applied to those doctrines which are sometimes regarded as repugnant to the Moral Reason-the Atonement, Predestination and Free Will, Eternal Punishment, Original Sin, and so forth. The idea that pervades the whole of this discussion, is, that "the legitimate object of a rational criticism of revealed religion, is not to be found in the contents of that religion, but in its evidences."+ No positive and reliable argument can be drawn from the morality of the Christian faith. The external evidences of Christianity are the only legitimate foundation for a rational belief. Thus driven from the stronghold of our faith, we are turned out naked and helpless into an almost illimitable field of inquiry. Mr. Mansel devotes a page or more of his eighth lecture to an enumeration, by no means exhaustive, of the various questions which must be met and settled before we can arrive at an intelligent faith in Christianity-an enumeration at which the broadest scholarship must stand aghast. Finally, having brought us into these embarrassments, our author insists on the impossibility of eclecticism in Christianity. We must prove everything or accept nothing. To reject "one jot or one tittle of the whole doctrine of Christianity"--and, judging from the tenor of the volume, the "doctrine of Christianity" means, here, the traditionary faith of the Anglican Church—
* Limits of Religious Thought, p. 110.
Ibid., pp. 204, 205.
is nothing short of an assertion "that Jesus of Nazareth was an impostor, or an enthusiast, or a mythical figment, and his disciples crafty and designing, or well-meaning, but deluded men." Such is an outline of the work before us, so far as it pertains to our general subject.
With regard to the general design of the Bampton Lectures and their bearing upon the relative attitudes of the Church and Infidelity, they seem to us, from our New England standpoint, to be a long way behind the times. Had this book appeared when Bolingbroke and Hume and Gibbon were leaders of the literary world, it might have been regarded as an audacious effort to beg the questions in dispute. Then objections of the speculative and moral reason to the doctrines of the Christian faith were rife; and if Mr. Mansel could have proved that such objections were illegitimate, it would have been a very happy blow at the high-handed infidelity of the age. Even in that day, however, it is probable that Mr. Mansel's book would have been hailed as a virtual surrender of the faith for which he contends-a surrender because of its preposterous assumptions. Indeed, there is a singular coincidence between our author's depreciation of Reason and the sardonic language of Hume at the close of his Essay on Miracles:
"So that, upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian Religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one. Mere reason is insufficient to convince us of its veracity: And whoever is moved by Faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most contrary to custom and experience."
The object of the lecturer is to show that the objections raised by Reason against the Christian faith are illegitimate and unphilosophical. The method of his argument is, as we have seen in the outline, to show that the various doctrines of revealed religion are above the comprehension of Reason, and this point is established by proving them to be self-contradictory and utterly unintelligible! That is, starting from indis
* Limits of Religious Thought, p. 215.
putable premises-which Reason must acknowledge as suchand reasoning with severest logic, if we become involved in contradictions and absurdities concerning any doctrine, the Existence of God, for example, we are not to discard that doctrine as unreasonable; we are to accept it by Faith; and these speculative difficulties are to be considered as a part of our probation. God has permitted them "to exist as the trial and the discipline of sharp and subtle intellects, as he has permitted moral temptations to form the trial and the discipline of strong and eager passions;"* and in the same spirit our author might have added, as he has created fossils in the rocks in order to mock the honest inquirer after truth!
But, if the objections urged by Reason against the Christian faith be illegitimate and vain, surely the arguments which Reason offers in its favor are also illegitimate and vain. The morality of the Bible is no longer any ground for its authority. We can draw no argument from the intrinsic truth and excellence of Christianity. Our faith, so far as it has been grounded on internal evidence, is irrational and unwarrantable. The Church must cede the vantage ground won in the past. Paine may withdraw his concessions. Good old grandmothers, whose faith in Christianity has been reposing on the ground of its perfect adaptation to their spiritual wants, must rub up their spectacles, study Hebrew and Syriac, compare old manuscripts, investigate the Canon and settle all the knotty points at issue between Science and Criticism and the Old Interpretation. In these alone are to be found the legitimate object of a rational criticism, the valid ground of a rational belief!
And this preposterous defense of Christianity is offered after the objections of Reason to the content of the Christian faith have been fairly met and answered, after the battle has been fought out, the province won, and the controversy shifted to a new arena! We have heard much lately of the long somnolence of the Church of England, and it is certainly a charitable view to take of her condition, as represented in the persons of Mr. Mansel and his supporters. Rip Van Winkle has been
Limits of Religious Thought, p. 219.
asleep. He does not know that the world is older by a hundred years; that the wars of the Manhattoes are ended, and that the tactics of Peter the Headstrong are obsolete.
But this is not the worst. In sending forth the Church to battle with Science and Criticism for the external evidences of her faith, our author not only strips her of all her defensive armor, which has rendered her impregnable in days gone by, but he evokes against her a host of merciless foes.
There can be no eclecticism in Christianity. We must prove everything or accept nothing. Either the whole Bible or none --or as Infidelity eagerly takes up the strain," the Bible is one, and it is too late now to propose to divide it."* Thus while the Church is rendered helpless, all the jots and tittles of the traditionary faith are endued with individual power to overthrow her, unless she can compel them every one into her service. Shorn of thy locks, the Philistines be upon thee, Samson!
The argument from the external evidences must be minute and exhaustive, and, till this be established, Christianity must be held in suspense. The ground of our faith being gone, since we are unable any longer to plead its intrinsic truth and sound morality in its defense, we must lay aside for the present our hope and confidence in God, turn away from the delusive sources of our spiritual peace and comfort, gird up our loins and prepare to toil through a wilderness of dry investigation. Nor dare we begin to rear the structure of our faith until the whole wilderness has been explored-until every legitimate question of evidence is settled. A single error in history, chronology, or physical science coming to light in an unsuspected quarter would vitiate the entire argument.†
Now, aside from the fact that such exhaustive research is impossible and preposterous, the very nature of the evidence in question forbids its being linked together in this way. The argument is cumulative, not catenary. The discovery of errors in interpretation, or in the manuscripts themselves, is not the breaking of a chain, but simply the invalidation of certain spu
* Westminster Review, October, 1860. Art. on Neo-Christianity.
rious notions of the popular belief. And the detecting and exposing of such errors is but the confirmation of the truth that is left. It is a pertinent fact that some who have devoted themselves to minute investigation of the external evidences, with the hope of substantiating a powerful argument against the Christian faith, have ended in becoming the warmest adherents and champions of that system which they designed to overthrow.
But why these idle strictures at the present day? Does not Mr. Mansel know that many points, which he thus arbitrarily would have settled at once, must, from their nature, remain moot-points forever, as they have been in times past; and that our faith and piety are not affected by whatever opinions we may honestly entertain concerning them? What would our author say of Luther, who rejected the epistle of James from the Canon ?---of Coleridge, who rejected the Christopædia prefixed to the third gospel and incorporated with the first?— of those who doubt the authenticity of the epistle to the Hebrews or the book of Revelation? The fact is, no one can look into these questions of biblical criticism without finding many points concerning which the mind must be held in suspense. One man finds difficulty in straitening out the genealogies; another cannot harmonize the gospels to his satisfaction; another cannot make the words of scripture square with modern science. But all this does not militate against piety nor faith, nor the true interests of Christianity in any respect. The great doctrines of the Bible still retain their authority and power; its precepts are still binding on our daily lives; its encouragements are as inspiring, its warnings as portentous to the soul. Suppose that the conjectures of Mr. Horner and M. Boucher de Perthes be true, and that the human race, instead of dating its origin with Archbishop Usher on Friday, October 28th, B. C. 4004, date back ten thousand years or more into the Tertiary period-or suppose that Mr. Darwin could substantiate his unscientific theory concerning the origin of species, and that men were really developed originally out of the lower forms of animal life; would not the law of Love be just as binding on the soul? Suppose the fragmentary origin of the Pentateuch put beyond