The Great Problem Solved;
Being Replies to the Question
"What have We got to Rely on, if We cannot Rely on the Bible?"
"Hail! Holy Light,—offspring of Heaven, first-born,
Or of the Eternal co-eternal beam,—
May I express thee unblaned? since God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from Eternity, dwrelt then in thee,
Bright efflucuce of bright [unclear: cassnce] increate."
Dunedin: Mills, Dick and Co., Printers,-Stafford Street.
The Great Problem Solved.
"He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless cyeballs pout the day."
"They deeds let sacred justice rule;
Thy heart let mercy fill;
And walking humbly with thy God,
To him resign thy will"
Not what is written in a book, or preached from pulpits or altars, or enunciated from councils or shrines; but what is sanctioned by reason, which is a developed conscience, that is to us the only word of God.
"The primal virtues shine aloft as stars,
The charities that soothe and heal and bless."
Not the Church, nor the Bible, but reason is the foundation of religion. Not tenets of religion, but purity of heart can save the soul from corruption, and secure to man the favor and blessing of God. Reason is the revelation of the will of God, legibly written on the heart of man, and on the eternal Scriptures of the earth—the sea and the sky. "Religion" says Professor F. W. Newman, "is a life, not a mere theory."
Nature and the conscience—apart from a Bible—reveal the exis- page 6 tence and character of God. As Newman says, "a belief in a holy God is necessarily prior to any rational belief in a Bible."
Natural religion has been choked up with the briars, thorns, thistles, and nettles of biblical dogmas and superstitions. Our business is to do justly, act mercifully, and to adore God humbly, but fervently; and leave the issue in his hands. Plato and Cicero did not dogmatise on the question of immortality; neither does Newman. They did not attain to a certainty, and certainly were not good from the selfish hope of reward; but they practised virtue—just as they pursued knowledge—because of its intrinsic excellence. Let us—
"Hope humbly, then, with trembling pinions soar,
Wait the great teacher Death, and God adore"
As the Reformers of the 16th century threw away the authority of the Church, so the greater Reformers of the 19th century will have to cast aside the supernatural authority of the Hebrew leaves, and on reason and conscience build up true religion and a manly resolve. We must exercise the faculties given us by God. Human authority has paralysed the reason of man in religious matters. Hence "the mental emaciation which false teaching" has superinduced. Through the perversity and ignorance of preachers, who elaborately inculcate "the disuse of our religious faculties," the Protestant, no less than the Catholic, has well high lost his personal confidence in a personal God. Hence the prevalence of Atheism Pantheism, and practical irreligion. We have often, indirectly, called in question the orthodox religious notions of the day, and have been frequently taunted with the question—"What have we got to rely on, if we cannot rely on the Bible?" Our invariable reply was, Trust your own reason and conscience. Do not hang out your Hebrew lamp in the meridian splendor of the sun to light your path. Our views may be far a-head of the age; but, it appears from two small pamphlets published in England, the one by Professor F. W. Newman—brother of the Rev. John Newman, who left the Anglican for the Roman communion—and the other By the Lord Bishop of Norwich, Dr. Hinds, who resigned his office in 1857, page 7 that this view of ours is the goal "towards which numbers in all Protestant countries are now progressing." There is a new and glorious religious reformation just dawning—compared to which the Protestantism of the last reformation was only the lisping of babes in swaddling clothes. Men are now earnestly asking to be delivered from the thraldom of Protestant superstition, and appealing to conscience and reason as the ultimate authority on things pertaining to God, religion, and the salvation of the soul from error, sin, and every sort of defilement. The soul of humanity is opening its eyes from the lethal sleep of ages.
Professor Newman and the English Bishop had been importuned by the publisher of these two pamphlets to reply to the question—"What have we got to rely on, if we cannot rely on the Bible?" We hereby publish their answers. We may remark that the Bishop's reply is even more satisfactory to us than that of the Professor. It is gratifying to find that men are slowly but surely feeling their way out of darkness into the light—out of the Cimmeria of bigotry and superstition into the glorious religion of light and liberty. Our own views—albeit in advance of this illiterate age—receive fresh confirmation of their philosophical soundness from the evident tendencies of modern thought, and specially from such cheering approximations of religious ideas as are to be found in the two following sixpenny pamphlets, which we publish at the English price, albeit our market is very limited, and the cost of printing four-fold dearer than it would be at home: besides, we throw a third pamphlet in the form of an introduction into the bargain. May this little book, under Divine Providence, open the eyes of the blind, and purge the souls of the ignorant from the dross of error, falsehood, and superstition. May the reader rise from its perusal intellectually illuminated, morally refreshed, and religiously regenerated.
Reply No. 1., By Professor F. W. Newman.
My Dear Scott,—
You write to me a pressing letter, begging me to reply (since your own replies, somehow or other, do not bring satisfaction,) to those who ask, "What have we got to rely on, if we cannot rely on the Bible?"
I have written two books which expressly treat this question at largo. The one is called 'The Soul the other, which is the more mature and comprehensive work, is called 'Theism,' that is, the doctrine of God; and aims to develop the religion which is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Moham-medism. I have very little confidence that I can treat so great a subject concisely, with much chance of giving satisfaction. A short reply can easily confute the questioner, if he is a more objector; but it cannot possibly give him peace and rest of soul, if he is sincerely uneasy;—for two reasons; first, because the mind of the questioner is clearly unexercised; next, because religion is a life, not a mere theory; and it is only by the life of religion that faith in God can grow up into active force.
I. I have already move than once printed what, I think, is a sufficient confutation of those who fancy that the Bible can ever be the ultimate restingplace of legitimate and wanly faith.
If we be ever so sure that the Bible is dictated by a superhuman Mind, this cannot be to us any guarantee of truth, while that mind is unknown to us. We cannot talk of the book's being guaranteed to us by God, unless we first know both that there is a God, and what sort of God he is; that he attends to our conduet; approves of our virtue, and of our justice; disaoproves of our vice and injustice; is likely to send us a book to teach us; is himself Holy and good. Until we know all this, the Bible cannot have authority, if it be ever so much a book from him. A book written by a Fairy or a Devil would not have the more authority, though the Fairy were to say, "I am not capricious; or the Devil, "I am not malignant." We need to know the moral character of the Spirit who dictates the book, independently of what that Spirit says of himself in the book. A lying Spirit will tell lies his word is absolutely' worthless. We must know that the inspirer of the book is truthful, wise, and good, by some surer mode than by his own word. His self-laudation goes for nothing, unless we first know his character. Hence, until we have something surer than God's word, God's word is invalid as an authority.
I have here laboriously said in many lines what will go into few, because I find people to be upon this matter wonderfully dull and puzzle-headed. No one believes a man to be truthful upon his own testimony. It is equally irrational to believe an unknown Spirit to be truthful upon his own testimony. We need to believe God to be truthful and good because we see it ourselves, and not because he tells us. Until then, we have no foundation for religion in any imaginable Bible.
Now if, prior to and independent of book-authority, we know that God exists, and is truthful and good (which is the highest and most important of all truths), surely it is absurd to say that Man, without an authoritative Bible, has no religious foundation; or to undervalve that revelation which God has given us of himself, in the universe and in the human heart. And to undervalue it, is nothing but a modern, a contemptible, and, I may add, a detestable heresy It is not found in the Old Testement, nor yet in the New, nor in the ancient Christian Fathers, nor even in the Catholic Church. It is nothing but the error of a very narrow Protestantism, which insists on looking into a book for what cannot be found there. And this evidently bréala down of itself, the moment a missionary attempts to preach the gospel to the heathen. Not one was ever so unwise as to go to a barbarian and say, "Believe that there is a God, because this Book says that there is a God; moreover that he is Holy, Just, Loving, and True." This could only [unclear: esiest] page 9 the reply, "What is the Book to me? What do I know about it, that I should believe it?" But the preacher says boldly: "The God who made Heaven and Earth, the God who abhors wickedness and loves righteousness, commands you to repent of your sins, calls you to do justice, to love mercy, and adore God humbly." And, if he can get the intelligence of the hearers, as he generally can, to accept this statement, as verified by the world around and by the conscience within, he further proceeds to set before the hearer the great gravity of Sim—presses on him that he needs some mode of acquittal from Guilt and Punishment, and urges him to flee from the Wrath to come. (Such, at least, is the ordinary process.) If he can gain this second step, he takes a third, and propounds a salvation from heaven and a Saviour. Of course, if the hearer asks how this is known, the preacher at last brings in the Bible and the Apostles and the other Christian apparatus. Such is the outline of what not only the first preachers did, but what all reasonable missionaries do,—all whom a Protestant will endure; for to act upon barbarians by carrying about pictures and flags and such like sensuous demonstrations, does not approve itself to us. It is therefore really too late, and too absurd, for Protestant Christians to deny or doubt that the belief in a holy God is necessarily prior to any rational belief in a Bible. The Bible may perhaps build something more upon the foundation, but cannot lay the foundation. If it cannot be laid independently of the Bible, it can never be laid at all. And nothing that a Bible can build upon Natural Religion (so called) can ever be half so valuable as that which pre-existed—the belief in God, Holy and Good. To undervalue this belief is the weakest form of Scepticism, the direct token of religious rottenness.
II. What has made so many Protestants thus weak? What has sapped the energy of their faith in God? Principally the perversity and ignorance of preachers, who elaborately inculcate the disuse of our religious faculties. If any one were to dandle a child it: arms long after he ought to run about, Were to have him drawn in a Bath chair or carried in a Utter, and never allow his foot to touch the ground, the boy's muscles would never grow, his legs would be spindles; and if, some day, his vehicles were suddenly withdrawn, he would wallow on the ground miserably, and groan out that God had never made man to walk. This is a close representation of the mental emaciation which false teaching induces. The hearer is made simply receptive of notions authoritatively poured in. All independent thought is repressed and crippled, through alarm lest it reject something in the authoritative Bible; lest it distinguish some things in the Bible, as not only certainly true, but as prior certainties, and thereby become conscious of power to sit in judgment on the book itself. When a great body of preachers in a succession of generations dread lest the human mind become conscious of power, their hearers collectively cannot but be dwarfed in religions intelligence. Such is the state of a very great mass of English devotees. When these discover that their basis is unsound—that the book which they had assumed to be infallible, is no more so than the infallible Church or Pope, they must not expect all at once to recover normal robustness of mind. They have been taught systematically to distrust the human faculties and to abstain from fundamental thought; and then they almost reproach such as you, because you cannot give them, that faith in Man, which is but a part of faith in Man's Creator. the faith is simply this,—that to Man collectively, to normal Man, God has given all that God sees needful "for life and godliness;" hence, so long as sure knowledge is strictly unattainable, neither is it necessary for that measure of perfection for which God designs us, which also he claims of us. Natural talents, which are diligently cultivated, increase immensely in force; but if they are not cultivated, dwindle. Still, while vitality is strong, even late in life much may be done to retrieve past neglect: and in this ease it is, in general, only one side or corner of the mind which has been neglected. page 10 The man who m religion has been merely receptive and credulous, may have been active-minded and bold in other studies or occupations: hence with time and exercise, even when the crutches are pulled from under him, his limbs may gradually recover normal strength.—Yet not all at once; he must have time.
However, I believe that such questions as you say are put to you, are oftenest not put by persons who here really ceased to rely on the Bible; they are meant merely as arguments to shut your mouth. To such, the proper reply is that of my first head. They are alarmed for others, not uneasy themselves. Because they cannot swim they fancy that others cannot; and do not believe that they could ever themselves learn. If they will never go into the water—probably not. If they will not accept a proved truth, because they do not yet foresee all the consequences to which it may lead, they have very little love of truth, and they are never likely to learn much. They deserve no sympathy, for they are not suffering. Why distress yourself about them?
III. But, nest, the religion of which we speak is not, what a Greek philosopher or Herbert Spencer would make it, a part of Physics, an effort to solve the problem of Cosmogony; it is an opening of the human heart to the consciousness of a present living, ruling God. All Christians revere the saying: "Blessed the pure in heart j for they shall see God." They believe it (I hope), not only because they find it written in a book, but also because they see it true and find it true. If so, they will not cease to believe it, when they cease to trust the book as authoritative. But some one has said, "Selfishness is Hell, and Love is Heaven." Those who, with Paul, study whatever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy; who with James wait for the wisdom from above, pure, peaceable, full of mercy, and good fruits;—are certainly not far from the consciousness of Heaven and of God's presence. The love of man ordinarily leads, by a pretty short cut, both to the knowledge of God and to the love of God: and how else did [unclear: Apostles] get it? Let none imagine that outward sights or miracles avail. What signifies it to sec a bright light or hear a voice? To fling away selfishness, to live for others, to form noble aims, to mortify, mean and base desires, to limit our personal needs and personal indulgences, that we may the better support the weak,—all such moral inward deveopement is to become nobler and calmer, and will, if anything can, quell religious agitations at the loss of a favorite old erred. If any one has dropt belief in God entirely, with his belief that the Bible is immaculate, his paralysis is gone very far, if I may speak thus dogmatically; but if, while thus losing his belief, he is distressed at the loss, my full persuasion is, that by cultivating all noble and loving sentiment he will win back a ereed wiser and happier [unclear: than] the old. But this is no task for mere logic. The weapons of the warfare are spiritual.
But here, you tell me, that when you speak to this effect, people reply,—"It is all true, but they cannot be good." Christians and Jews may with reason say this as well as others. Pure perfect goodness cannot be in finite beings; we do but make approaches, each in his own measure, struggling up, day by day, to something higher. Have you really met with so much as one person, who seriously says to you: "While I believed the Bible to be an infallible book, I was conscious of inward power from God to be good (in my measure): his grace supported me in right doing, But, alas! since I have lost my belief in the Bible, I have lost all inward power to be good, in the sense and measure in which I was good before." I never knew such a case. I can only conceive of it in one who has been taught morality on false dogmatic foundations; and when he finds these to be rotten, is carried into immorality by the force of temptation. This is a lamentable possibility, and the recovery may be slow. But then, it is not you whom he must blame, but page 11 the dogmatic system. By this, I do not mean the Bible, but the modern narrowing down of everything to the Bible. At the same time, here also I suspect that your complainant, who says, "I cannot be good," is not speaking for hit actual, but for his theoretical self; and means only to say, "I think I should lose moral power, if I were to lose my faith in live Bible." A sufficient reply is, "Perhaps so, if your morality is puerile and ill-founded; if not, not."
IV. But, after all, I may be told that I quite misstate the case. Your complainant believes in all Natural Religion, but is sad to lose confidence in those things which the Bible has superadded to Natural Religion; and his question was, "What have we got to rely on concerning Immortality or a Futnre State., if we cannot rely on the Bible?" or, "What assurance can I have concerning my own Salvation, if, &c.?" I conjecturally insert such words. At this one must ask, Is it a selfish fear that distresses you? Where did you learn to be afraid that God would be hard upon you? If past guilt, in which you have injured other, lies on you conscience, and you did not make restitution to the utmost of your power while you were a Biblist, such peace as you then had was false and rotten. Let us hope better things. But if nothing of guilt remains, but sin against yourself and God, do you suppose your personality no mighty that God is a sufferer by you? Can you imagine that he desires anything else but your goodness? If you fear his vengeance, whence did you learn to fear? These fears are mere indications that you have not yet duly unlearned the errors of your old creed. His only "vengeance" is felt in the natural consequences of sin and crime, which he is too wise to repeal.
But if the complainant's selfishness take this form, "Alas! I thought I was going to have immortal glory, to sit on a throme with the Almighty Judge, to wear a crown, and to judge the nations with Him, but you, Mr. Scott! have cruelly robbed me of my delicious dream: what do you give me back for it?" I think you may safely reply, "The chance of learning to be less selfish." The true Heaven does not consist in aspirations quite ridiculous in puny man, but rather in self-forgetfulness; in that faith which says, "Let me do the will of God, and be swallowed up in his work. Conscious that his goodness is perfect, let me spend not a thought on the contingencies of my future, which he will provide as his wisdom gees good."
So much for self. But I am gravely sensible that these is another view of Immortality in which self is quite forgotten; in which the enlargement of man's destiny beyond the grave is viewed as ennobling our nature, and assuaging the grief with which we see human afflictions end in dark moral degradation. Such a doctrine of Immortality is incumbered with severe logical difficulties to a Theist, but with fewer (I think) than those which meet a Biblical Christian. To speak egotistically;—in my book on the 'Soul,' I expressed little but negations concerning the doctrine of Immortality: in my book called Theism,' I have elaborately developed all the arguments which commend themselves to me. When I read them, I find them very powerful. Some of them are even short enough, if sound, to generate vivid electric faith. The discomfort to me is, that they do not wholly refute, they rather outweigh, arguments on the other side; and where you deal with a balanced argument, you strike the balance differently, I believe, in different frames of mind, Perhaps when I am too much pre-engaged by sense, and too little devout, the spiritual arguments for Immortality lose force with me. Whether that is the explanation, I cannot tell: but I frankly confess, that what at one time I think to bring full conviction, at another time seems overbalanced by objections. I do not at all imagine (hat I have solved the problem. I sometime think that the half-faith which I sustain may be precisely the thing most wholesome to man: and indeed, is it not unreasonable to expect to see clearly through such a veil as Death? Yet there are Theists, as Theodore Parker, and Muzzini, and earlier, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, with whom page 12 Immortality was an axiom. When many minds cultivate hoi [unclear: less] and piety independently, will not their co-operation gradually develop higher and surer truths than we have yet attained? Let your complainant exercise the grace of waiting for light, and of hoping that more light may dawn on our successors than God has yet granted to us.
Reply No. 2, By S. Hinds.
My Dear Sir,—
You tell me that you are pressed with the question, "If we cannot rely en the Bible, what have we to rely on?" It is prompted, I presume, by a feeling akin to that which caused our Lord's Apostlcs to exclaim, on one occasion, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life." (John vi. 68) It is a question which you cannot but respect, and even sympathise with, although you may not be under its disquieting influence. But he who is, may be reminded that, in these latter days of Christianity, a question of the like import, and prompted by the like feeling, has once already disquieted the minds of Christians, and has nevertheless been answered to the satisfaction of, at all events, numbers in their successive generations. When the errors and malpractices of the Roman Catholic Church were impelling multitudes to protest against it and quit it, the question was, "If we cannot rely on the Church, what have we to rely on?" There is a natural craving after some infallible leaching, in matters of Religion, which was thought too reasonable to be denied, and the Bible was proposed and accepted as the substitute, in this respect, for the Church; that, though not the Church, was pronounced to be infallible. We are now entering on a farther stage of religious progress. Numbers are so startled at the exposure of some palpable errors, and even questionable rules of morality, in the Bible, that they are beginning to pretest against its infallibility, as did a past generation against that of the Church, and thus the question is revived, "If we cannot rely on the Bible, what have we to rely on?"
A scoffer might be disposed to say, "This reminds one of the Eastern theory of the earth's resting-place. It was supported on an elephant. But what supports the elephant ? A tortoise. And what supports the tortoise? No answer. Even so, it may be suggested, the Church was made the first resting-prop for the Christian world. When driven to find one on which to rest the Church, it was the Bible. Now, objections being urged against that, what underlies it? Nothing." That such, however, is not the ease, may, I think, be shown satisfactorily, and without drawing on the unreasoning credulity of any. Let me preface what I have to say for this purpose by observing that the protest against the Church formerly, and that which is now gathering strength against the Bible, have not been protests against either Church or Bible in respect of their legitimate character and use; but against each and both as infallible teachers of religious truth. And now for the question which you are called en to answer.
I. Firstly, to assume, by à priori reasoning, that Cod must have provided an infallible teaching of religious truth, is more than we have any reasonable right to do. It may seem to us to be requisite and indispensable; but we are not competent judges of this. The rational, and humble, and pious course unquestionably is, to ascertain, in the first instance, what is actually the religious provision made for us by our Creator, and to accept this, and endeavour to regulate our life and faith by it, whether or not it corresponds to anticipations founded on à priori reasoning.
II. Secondly, in the instances of infallible teaching, or rather, in those which have been successively recognised as such, all that has been apparent page 13 has been human agency, the divine agency having been always imperceptible. The Roman Catholic Church representa itself to be the working of the divino mind within a human exterior; but whatever its members may believe of this assumption, all that they are actually conversant with, the entire of its teaching, comes to them from priests and councils, through words spoken or written by men of the like passions with themselves. There is no vox ex adylis, no sign or sound divine. Protestants, whatever degree of sanctity they may ascribe to the scriptures, whatever extent of inspiration they may assert for their authorship, derive all their religious infruction from human teaching. What they see is a book, confessedly the work of man's hand, the interpretation of which is their instruction, and this interpretation is, and ever must be, human, whether embodied in Church formularies, derived from the lips of a pastar or other trusted individual, or acquired through the exercise of their own human faculties on the contents of the book. Place the divine infallibility where you will, the human fallibility must come between you and it. The book itself is man's report of God's Word, and of all that is asserted to be divine in and concerning his record of it. Reliance on the Bible, therefore, does not mean reliance of the same kind as when we speak of relying on God, or on a fellow-creature, or on any fact; such, e.g., as the continuance of the course of nature. It is, if I may be allowed the expression, a compound reliance,—a reliance on an aggregate of what is divine and what is human. Why should it shock and bewilder your questioner to have it pointed out to him, that that which is human is necessarily fallible, and that this fallibility affects the aggregate. He could never, if he has duly reflected on the matter, have imagined that he could rely either on the interpretation of Scripture or on Scripture itself, independently of the exercise on both of those natural faculties which God has bestowed on us, and as possessing which God addresses us when His gracious purpose is to make us wise unto salvation. It is this joint working that St. Paul impressed on the Christiana of Philippi when he told them (Philippi ii. 12, 13), "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,"—worketh with us, not without us, and not only in doing His will, but in acquiring that knowledge of Him, which it is His will and good pleasure to reveal to us.
III. Thirdly, whilst the attention of the religious world has been absorbed in contemplating the shift from one infallible teacher, or supposed infallible teacher, to the other, a change, not less important and more permanent, has been simultaneously going on in the fuller and still fuller recognition of an appeal to human reason on all questions concerning divine revelation. The first bold step in this direction was taken in respect of Church infallibility. It was canvassed, it was brought to the test of human reasoning, it was roughly handled, and overthrown—overthrown, perhaps, is too strong a word—but, at all events, amongst a large section of Christendom it was undoubtedly denuded of its most extravagant pretensions. An advance from this to an examination of the claim for the Bible to be recognised as the infallible teacher was inevitable. To some extent it was entered on even in the first stages of Protestantism, but tenderly and timidly. Certain portions of the Bible were rejected from the infallible document. What was left, however, was not as yet thought to be questionable. The free exercise of man's reasoning powers found employment in the interpretation of the sacred volume. All agreed that the Scriptures were infallible; but this infallibility was no infallible teaching unless those who interpreted the Bible interpreted it rightly. Where resided the infallible interpreter? For any Protestant Church to have asserted this qualification would have been to revive the pretensions of the Church from which all had separated, and on the decisions of which all had freely exercised their reasoning powers. Was human reason, then, to be supreme even in religious matters? The admission of this principle was page 14 unavoidable; its full cstablishment might be slow and gradual, but eventually it was certain In the meantime, even in its first development, it gave rise to a new feature in the Christian world—at least, in Western Christendom—the formation of sundry churches with no positive bond of union between them; only the negative bond of dissent from Rome. I do not mean that they had nothing positive in common; but that the only common ground on which they could combine for any joint action, was the negative one of being anti-Romanist. Subsiding into this condition, Protestant Christendom has gone on ever since, admitting an exercise of human reasoning in the interpretation of the Bible, but struggling, with more or less of conscious inconsistency, both against the actual fallibility of interpretation as authoritatively set forth in its formularies, and also against the further exercise of that reasoning faculty—which once released from its shackles, was sure to extend its [unclear: flod] of operation,—on the authority of the Scriptural document, on the limits of its infallibility, on its claim, either wholly or partially, to infallibility. This is the stage which we cannot be said to hare reached, but towards which numbers in all Protestant countries are now progressing. Amongst these are many, no doubt, who, like your questioner, are slow to admit the sufficiency of those reasoning powers, the exercise of which has led them thus far. Consideraoins such as I have ventured to suggest may help to assure them, that it is appointed to man thus to seek and attain the knowledge that is from above, as well as that which is of the earth.
Permit me to say a word or two more on one feature in this direction of progressive thought, which has hitherto marked its course, and is now as prominent as ever. It is the paramount importance which is given to religious knowledge. It would seem to be taken as an indisputable principle, as indeed it has been from a very early period in the history of Christianity, that our chief religious care should be to determine all that we can concerning God and our unseen and future condition. Now this comprises topics concerning which, once sanction the exercise of reasoning, there must ever be a widespread disagreement. The affixing of a creed to a church, embodying all that has been determined by its founders or rulers, is a signal of dissent from, if not of actual hostilitiy to, other churches; and, in no long time, a source of division and discord within each separate community; in the Church of England, at present, carried to an excess which makes it difficult for the different parties to be comprehended in it, notwithstanding the latitude permitted; to say nothing of the large dissenting bodies who find it impassible to remain in it. Is not this, which is confessedly an unchristian condition, enough to suggest a doubt, whether we are not making too much of religious knowledge or belief, in short of the Christian creed. Notwithstanding all the force which may belong to the argument for it from the unbroken tradition of many centuries, when we reflect on all that doctrinal tests have given rise to, the atroeities committed by Christians on Christians, the individual and wholesale persecutions, the bloody wars, is there not enough to make it questionable whether Christians are right in presuming that it is a creed which is required of them above all things? Of two revelations from God to us, whether you include in the sources of them Scripture, or not, He has given us something like infallible teaching for the one, and has [unclear: denied] it, practically denied it to us, for the other. Religious life, the observance of justice, charity, and other moral requirements, of faith, too, in God, and a recognition of responsibility for all matters wherein He has given us free-will to do or not to do, in all this the will of God is so revealed to us that every one, without doubt, can comprehend and conform to it. The religious creed, on the other hand, the knowledge of and belief in the doctrines of a Trinity, an Atonement, an Incarnation, the Personality of the Holy Ghost, Justification, Sanctification are matters which do not admit of the same ready and universal acceptance, and which have been the occasion of much unchristian strife and cruelty, of page 15 much which is condemned by that oilier revelation of the divine will, which is alone capable of being made a universal symbol of God's people. It is not the holding of these doctrines of which I am speaking, but the requiring from those who unite in one religious body that they shall hold them, one and all; that their symbol of fellowship must be, not the living principle winch is evidenced by a Christian life, but the assent to certain formularies embodying these points of knowledge go and belief. Men who lead religious lives may surely be still of one religious society, although they may not agree in thinking alike on such topics. Men may surely worship God, side by side, if that worship consists of simple prayer and praise not stamped with professions of doctrine. Agree to differ, and the very differences are likely to be diminished when they are no longer the battlefield for controversy. Tenets are the appropriate bond and symbol of philosophical and political associations, because tenets express the object for which the members unite; but the ultimate object of' religious union consists, not in aught which is set forth in the tenets of religion, however high and holy that may be, but in holy living, in obedience to a law that is written within as well as without us, in that purity of heart without which no man shall see God.
When, therefore, you are asked, "If we cannot rely on the Bible, what have we to rely on?" you may reply, Will you be left comfortless, without infallible guidance and teaching, as to one great section of divine revelation,—God's will respecting man's life? But the questioner is not satisfied. He asks for a corresponding certainty in what he is to think and believe concerning the nature of the divine Being, the mode of His intercourse with us, the whole scheme of His appointments for man, now and hereafter. Habituated to clothe his piety in the rich garb of an elaborate creed, what is to become of me, he exclaims, if the materials out of which this precious inheritance has been fabricated are not as surely and as essentially my religion as justice and mercy, simple faith and childlike devotion? Say to such an one, in the words of an Apostle, "Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God; shall the thing formed say to him that tormed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" (Romans ix, 20.) On whom ought you to charge your disquietude—on God, if it appears that He has not provided the like plain evidence for your creed, or on man who has assumed that He ought and must have done so, and has built up this system, and, not only so, but has caused it to take precedence of, if not to supersede altogether, that portion of His Revelation which He has made as dear to us as if he had written it on the sky; which needs no learned interpretation, for it is not a matter of learning; which is fitted to bind His people together without the possibility of their union being dissolved through dissent about it; which is, after all, the Revelation to which we instinctively turn, when appeal is made from any portion of a creed which is thought to be inconsistent with a divine revelation? Say to such an one, that his misgiving savours of mistrust in God, who has made us as it seemed best to him, and, as it seemed best to him, has placed us in circumstances which call for the exercise of the faculties with which he has endowed us, and has so ordered it, that in the exercise of those faculties alone He is revealed to us, whether they be exercised on His volume of nature, or on Scripture. The source of revelation may be either; but the revealer is man himself. Bid him, moreover, be on his guard against substituting a vain and presumptuous prying into the hidden things of the Lord, for the desire to know Him by seeking to conform to his will. The tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden, the craving after which caused Adam and Eve to be banished from the tree of life, may serve as an emblem to us. We, too, in our eager pursuit after forbidden knowledge, may find ourselves wandering far away from the life which in destined otherwise to nourish and prepare us for Heaven.page break
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