The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
The Faith of the Future
The Faith of the Future.
It does not seem probable, nor is it in any wise to be desired, that the "Church of the Future" should arise out of a Sect. It is not probable that the one true religion should be east in the same mould as old errors. It is not to be wished that it should go through the same stages of fervent youth and worldly middle life, and cold and declining age as the sects and churches of the past. Great souls will doubtless arise to aid their brethren as of yore, by written and spoken words of wisdom. But though they may rally around them the hearts to whom they are the rightful leaders, they will hardly form an organised sect, or seek to do so. Rather must we hope that a wholly different process will take place, and be allowed to go forward without too vehement opposition whereby it might change to somewhat more perilous and revolutionary. Let us hope that the truths of Theism will gradually permeate the thoughts of the age, leavening them by degrees. The Theism in Christianity will then continue to rise (as it seems now to be doing) to more and more prominence, while all that is narrow and dogmatic in the old creed will sink into the shade. Men will think more of justice and love and less of creeds and sacraments. Preachers will take from the treasure house of the Bible, not stories of miracles and prophecies and dogmas of an Incarnation and an Atonement, but the great utterances of faith and love: the sublime spiritual lessons of holiness and self-sacrifice. Laymen will care less for their priest's "orthodoxy" or Apostolic Succession, and more for his inheritance of one of those Pentecostal tongues of fire which can "reach to the dissevering of the joints and marrow; "less for his fluency of Biblical language and orthodoxy of Biblical belief, and more for his possession of a true spark of that same great inspiration which breathed through the prophets and evangelists. We shall cease to count men religious because they hold correct doctrines and use consecrated formulas and attend services of devotion; and shall only reckon them pious page 245 in truth when the love of God has visibly purified their hearts and the love of man has become the obvious principle of their lives. And above all we shall change the common dark and gloomy ideas of God for brighter, truer, and more loving ones and as the old Calvinist doctrines of Baxter and Edwards shock us now almost as blasphemies, so the current teaching of our present divines shall grow unendurable, and we shall insist that to the All-Righteous, All-Merciful God shall be attributed no longer deeds and modes of government we should abhor as unjust and cruel from a despot of the earth.
When thoughts like these have leavened the opinions of the age, then by degrees the old belief will fall into forgetfulness and disuse. The new shoot of vigorous faith will cause the old leaves to drop away almost imperceptibly. The sunrise of a happy Trust in God will cause all the spectres of darkness to disappear. Men will only awaken to the fact that they have ceased to hold the old creed when they have become firmly rooted in a new and holier one.
Such we hope may be the progress or human thought and the process of growth of the Religion of the Future, if it be permitted to expand naturally and beautifully. If, on the contrary, the opposition against it be so bitter, and the forces of Traditionalism ranged so determinately in opposition as to bar every step of advance, then, indeed, none may say what shape the change may take. Reformation arrested becomes Revolution. On him who would stop the wheels of the Chariot of Progress must lie the blame of the inevitable overthrow which will ensue.
For the Theology which the human consciousness will evolve when freed from the trammels and only aided by the suffrage of history, we believe it will be a theology avowedly seeking to harmonise and unite the claims of all the functions of our nature: of the Intellect and the Religious Sentiment, of the Head and the Heart. It can stop at nothing short of this, for there cannot be here as in a traditional creed any fiction of a duty to sacrifice the one for the other, and either warp the verdict of Reason to meet the demands of Faith, or else to divide the kingdoms of Intellect and Religion and leave our intellectual life without religion, and our religious life without intellect. There is yet much left to be done in this direction, although the work has been already commenced. Among the obvious advances of our time must be reckoned a general recognition of the sanctity of physical laws. Another step will bring us to the reverence for mental ones. Formerly, not only did professed ascetics of the Romish and Protestant Churches systematically set at nought the laws God has given to our bodies, paradoxically hoping by such disobedience to do Him pleasure; but throughout the whole religious teaching of Christendom might be traced the fundamental conception of Piety as a thing antagonistic to all natural interests. Such an idea as that we should strive after a life wherein each page 246 faculty should have its full and recognised place in due subordination to conscience, was the remotest in the world from anything which was taught in the churches. Natural faculties and affections were to be subdued or renounced, not developed and harmonised. The Kingdom of Grace was one thing, the Kingdom of Nature another and quite different, and the subjects of the one were the foes and aliens of the other. The ideal Saint was not a true man ascending to the inner sanctuary of religion step by step upon the altar-stairs of his lower nature—of Senses, Intellect, and Affections. He was an ascetic, lifted off the earth in visionary rapture, deeming himself higher and higher as he ceased to rest upon or even touch the natural ground of humanity.
Let us be thankful that in our time this error in its grosser forms is rapidly dying away. The physical laws of life have begun to receive the attention of religious minds, if they have not yet obtained their due reverence as the clearest expressions of our Creator's will concerning the ordering of our bodies. The domestic affections are fully recognised as innocent, if they be not yet cherished as the appointed stages whereby our souls may climb from human love up to the love Divine. The joy of the artist and the man of science in the beauty and wisdom of creation is admitted to be worthy of a devout soul, if it be not yet prized as the glorious heritage of filial sympathy in the works of the great Architect, Painter, Poet, and Mechanician of the world. But there is a region wherein the old error still reigns. There is still one part of our natures men hold it is often well pleasing to God that we should put to silence—the intellect, the reasoning and critical powers—these are in the same category now that the whole lower nature was formerly. They are things which are supposed to have no religious claims, or at best very small ones to be regarded but little. Not openly indeed is this doctrine taught any longer. "We hear often of the "Bight," sometimes even of the "Duty," of Private Judgment; but unless in some miserable controversy of the Churches whoever sees this doctrine cordially inculcated in its full bearings? What divine bids us apply our Private Judgment to the fundamentals of Religion? Who blames the too easy indolent credulity whereby this duty is for ever evaded? This, then, is a task remaining for us to accomplish—the recognition of the Divine Right of the Intellect. We do not want much more "Rehabilitation of the Flesh" in a pure sense—none at all in a sense it is sometimes preached. We may leave the domestic affections, and Science and Art, to complete the assertion of their claims on human nature in harmony with profoundest piety; but we need to establish the Sacredness of the Laws of Mind—the duty of giving to them not an unwilling and enforced obedience as to things we cannot wholly escape albeit we fain would do so, but the homage of willing and reverent sub-mission as to laws appointed by the God of truth for our guidance into all truth. We need to perceive that it is our part to treat page 247 this Intellect God has been pleased to give us as religiously as our consciences or spiritual affections: always as in obedience to Him faithfully and piously. Let us but do this—let us use our intellects henceforth as if such a thing as antagonism between them and true religion was impossible,—then, indeed, will a new era for theology commence. Then will there be an end, once for all, to our perpetual strife over the "Claims and Conflicts" of "Reason and Faith," and of "The Bible and Modern Science." Then will the foundations be laid for a Religion which may be truly the Religion of Humanity—the pyramid whose base shall be wide as the whole nature of man, and whose summit shall rise higher and higher towards the heavens as the generations of the future build it up, and as the obelisks of traditional creeds fall from their narrow foundations, and are buried under the sands of time.—F. P. Coble.