Изображения страниц

inadequate, but still, as far as it goes, a true and real apprehension of God. We are at least put on the right track for apprehending him. We feel there is something divine, yea infinite, in our own moral promptings, which belongs to the essence of humanity. We are sure that we are not now dealing with an intellectual abstraction, but have got hold of a spiritual substance; and though our individual being is closed from below, and we can trace it down to its commencement in the first dim pulsations of the primitive consciousness, yet above, and towards God, it ever opens wider and wider, to receive a fuller influx of the Divine. Spiritual knowledge grows out of spiritual experience. The conception advances incessantly and imperceptibly towards the idea ; but as conception is the form of finite thought, while the perfect idea can only be grasped by an infinite intelligence, the inference is obvious, that the human mind in its most advanced stage of conceivable perfection will never be able to divest itself entirely of the limitations of a conceptional apprehension of God. We can deduce from this only one practical conclusion, and it is in the highest degree assuring and consolatory,—that the closer the communion of the human soul with God, the more unreservedly it loves, trusts, and serves him, the more truly it will know him, the clearer will become his revelations to it of the eternally right and true, and with deeper insight will it daily penetrate into the fathomless mysteries of his awful and glorious being. From this close involution of the knowledge of God with the moral experiences of the human soul, it results that a Divine Life will teach us more respecting him than the sublimest philosophy. The presentment in act and habitual endeavour of the entire self-surrender of a human soul to God, a manifestation to the eyes of men of that perfect trust in the infinite Wisdom, Justice, and Love which springs out of this moral blending of the human and the divine, inspires through natural sympathy a faith in that which sense cannot touch and reason cannot demonstrate; carries the mind through this beautiful moral phenomenon to something more beautiful still, which lies behind it and shines through it, and opens to men the invisible way in which they must seek

God, and where they will surely find him. Jesus of Nazareth uttered an eternal truth when he said, “ No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” The life which he lived on earth is the only access to the heavenly life. By the habitual attitude of his soul; by his heavenward aspirations; by the aim and tendency of his whole being,—he has opened a door through the veil, and consecrated for humanity a new and living way into the presence of God. Still, even through Christ we only gain a human conception of God. But then we have an endless future before us,



in which to approximate continually towards a more perfect knowledge. Every finite being must look up to the Infinite Being from its own point of view, and under the conditions of its special nature, and along the narrow radius which connects its diminutive point in the vast circumference of existence with the eternal Centre of Life and Blessing. Its apprehension of its object is not rendered less true, so far as it extends, but only more real, by the very limitations under which it is possible for it to apprehend at all. Mr. Parker says, “a Beaver, or a Rein

deer, if possessed of religious faculties, would conceive of the Deity with the limitations of its own personality, as a Beaver or a Reindeer.”* We accept his illustration, and do not shrink from its consequences. Were these animals endued, like man, with faculties open on one side towards God, and capable of progressive approximation towards him, we should be perfectly willing to admit that their Beaver or Reindeer apprehension of God would be a true and real apprehension for them. Lord Bacon long ago remarked, that we can perceive already in the dog an incipient faith and worship directed towards the higher nature of man. If there be any who think that this view makes religion, in the language of philosophy, too much of a subjective thing, a mere product of man's own nature, without any corresponding evidence of objective reality, we would refer them to Mr. Parker's excellent chapter on Spiritual Demand and Supply. The presence in the human soul of a deep religious instinct, implies the existence of its object. Our irresistible belief in a God, assures us that there must be a God. The great Kosmos to which we belong is based, not on falsehood, but on truth. As our belief in an outward material world convinces us that there it is, though we cannot prove it, so the universal recognition by humanity of a spirit transcending all phenomena is an infallible witness of its reality, though possibly lying beyond the conclusions of our finite logic. Nay, the very diversity and limitation of human modes of belief are conclusive evidence of the reality of their common object; for unless our nature be thoroughly mendacious, that must be a truth which adheres to every form of intellectual development, and has found an expression in all stages of social progress.

Our objection to Mr. Parker's statement of his fundamental doctrine of the Infinite Perfection of God is, that be constructs it in too absolute a form, as though he had himself seized the eternal idea ;—that he looks at the subject from too abstract and intellectual a point of view; and from not sufficiently recognising the fact of the progressive development of religious belief with the growth of human nature, has done injustice to the great pro

• Discourse, &c. p. 155.

phetic teachers of Religion before him. He says of this doctrine, in his Experience (p. 78), with an unqualified boldness that sounds very

like presumption, that “it is not known to the Old Testament or the New, and that it has never been accepted by any sect in the Christian world;" and again, in one of his Sermons to Progressive Friends (p. 61), that "neither in the Old Testament nor in the New do we find the God of infinite perfection.” With such apparent repudiation of all obligation to the past, one is tempted to ask where Mr. Parker, then, got this idea, which he says “is the grandest thought that ever came into mortal mind, and the highest result of human civilisation." He shall himself answer that question: “Let no man claim it as his original thought; it is the result of all mankind's religious experience. It lay latent in human nature once, a mere instinctive religious feeling. At length it becomes a bright particular thought in some great mind; and one day will be the universal thought in all minds, and will displace all other notions of God."* We will not

» make of this passage the application which it might naturally suggest, because we do not believe it was intended; but it seems certainly to imply the writer's belief, that a point is attainable in the knowledge of God, and that he himself has reached it, of which all previous religious systems fall short, and which itself will be final and impassable. The assumption, both as to the past and as to the future, seems to us equally gratuitous. All true knowledge of God must have its source, as we conceive, in the moral consciousness; and he who first clearly shows that it is so, is the great Revealer of religious truth. Not that such revelation excludes the idea of continuous development, but that it fixes the root of religion in the right place, and determines the direction of its future growth. A revelation of this description can be made effectually, as we have already indicated, only through a life, not through a doctrine. Setting aside for the moment all theological considerations, and looking simply at the effect on human history, we should say that the special service rendered by Jesus Christ to the world is to be found not so much in the doctrines which he preached and the institutions which he was indirectly the means of founding (valuable as these are in themselves), as in the decisive turn which he gave to religious thought and feeling by the great example of his life and death—in opening the true fountain of religious knowledge, and pointing out to men the only way in which they can find the Father. Completing his earthly mission within the narrow limits of his native land, his thoughts, his words, his acts, took inevitably an impress from the Palestinian society in which he lived, and could not have acted on it

* Sermons to Progressive Friends, p. 81.


under other condition; and we must of course allow largely for this in disengaging the seed of “life eternal” which he brought into the world, from the Judaic integuments which wrapped it round. But the seed was there, and burst through them, and impregnated other forms, and has survived with unimpaired vitality to the present day. It is the power of the life of Christ which still animates all creeds and all systems which exert any renovating force on the heart and conscience of men; and for this reason, that that life expresses the true moral relation between God and man, and opens a vista to the soul, through which it will ever see more and more of the Infinite Perfection of God. Mr. Parker has substituted a philosophical terminology-a terminology, however, which did not commence with him, but has been long employed by speculative theists—for the more popular anthropomorphic forms through which Jesus of Nazareth conveyed his profound religious intuitions into the soul of his brother man. But for all spiritual substance embraced within his abstract formulas, that has any vital affinity with a human soul, Parker is indebted to those earlier intuitions of a Father-God, gleaming through the love and holiness of Christ, which he puts away among the childish things of faith. We believe, however, that those intuitions will endure, because they have their origin in the permanent and imperishable part of man, ever shooting up from the one primitive root, but continually expanding into richer and more beautiful forms as they find embodiment and expression in the lives of nobler and holier men. The form into which Mr. Parker has cast them corresponds to his philosophical habits of thought, and possibly to the demands of his theological position: but it has no more claim to finality than earlier forms; and why Mr. Parker should suppose that the intellectual development of the idea of God is to cease with him, except in a form so abstract as to be wholly without moral significance, is more, we confess, than we are able to comprehend.

The confusion of religious with intellectual phenomena which pervades his reasoning on this subject, and his failure to recognise the fact that all revelation of religious truth must be imperfect which does not come through a life, has led him to make the extraordinary statement, that "Christianity, if true at all, would be just as true if Herod or Catiline had taught it."* This might be affirmed of any intellectual product. We can easily conceive of a wicked man being the discoverer of mathematical, or physical, or even ethical truth. But it is surprising that a mind acute and devout like Mr. Parker's, should not see that so delicate and sensitive an element as religious truth, not capable of direct mea

* Discourse, &c. p. 229.


surement and appreciation by any outward standard, but springing out of the invisible converse of the soul with its Maker, must of necessity lose its essential quality in passing through a corrupt and impure medium, from the very perversion and darkening of those higher relations of humanity with God through which alone the light of religious truth can be adequately reflected. Mr. Parker, indeed, is hardly consistent with himself in this matter. He affirms Christianity to be absolute religion and absolute morality," and to “differ in this respect from all other religions."* But how could it be this, considering the Judaic form in which it was given to the world, unless the principle of religion, perfect trust in God,--and the principle of morality, perfect selfsurrender to the sense of right—(apart from any doctrines in which they might be expressed), had been the root, and, as it were, the circulating sap of the life through which Christianity was revealed ? The earnestness of Mr. Parker's piety overflows the logical boundaries of his theory. His reverence for the person of Christ, in spite of phrases which may seem at first view to bear an opposite meaning, is profound and sincere. “Rarely, almost never," says he, "do we see the vast divinity within that soul, which, new though it was in the flesh, at one step goes before the world whole thousands of years; judges the race; decides for us questions we dare not agitate as yet, and breathes the very breath of heavenly love."

This same identification of a religious with an intellectual process has obscured, it seems to us, his doctrine of inspiration. His fundamental idea, indeed, that God is immanent in his works; that his Spirit is not shut up, but flows into every soul prepared for it as freely now as into that of Moses or Jesus thousands of years ago, -we cordially accept, and believe that the theological world will ultimately own itself largely indebted to him for having so boldly and consequentially asserted it. To us there is equal wisdom and beauty in the following words.

“As God fills all Space, so all Spirit; as He influences and conrains unconscious and necessitated Matter, so He inspires and helps free and conscious Man. This theory does not make God limited, partial, or capricious. It exalts Man. While it honours the excellence of a religious genius, of a Moses or a Jesus, it does not pronounce their character monstrous, as the supernatural, nor fanatical, as the rationalistic theory ; but natural, human, and beautiful, revealing the possibility of mankind. Prayer, whether conscious or spontaneous, a word or a feeling, felt in gratitude, or penitence, or joy, or resignation, is not a soliloquy of the man, not a physiological function nor an address a deceased man, but a sally into the infinite spiritual world, whence we bring back light and truth. There are windows towards * Discourse, &c. p. 267.

† Ibid. p. 284.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »