"Some Difficulties of Belief"
The Substance of a Lecture Delivered in S. Mary's Church. Parnell: s. George's. Thames: & S. Sepulchre's. Auckland; By the Reverend Charles Bodington,
William McCullough, Church Printer Auckland High Street1885
"Some Difficulties of Belief."
Belief has been defined by Bishop Pearson as, "An assent to that which is credible, as credible. By the word assent is expressed that act or habit of the understanding, by which it receiveth, acknowledgeth, and embraceth anything as a truth" (Pearson on the Creed, p. 2. Professor Bain, in his treatise on 'Mental Science," has taught that, "Belief, while involving the intellect and the feelings, is, in its essential import, related to the activity or the will. . . The relation of belief to activity is expressed by saying that what we believe we act upon. . . the difference between mere imagining and belief, is, acting or being prepared to act. The belief that a sovereign is worth twenty shillings is shewn by the readiness to take the sovereign in exchange for the shillings" (Mental Science, pp. 371-375).
Christian Faith or Belief, is not a mere assent to a number of statements, as credible; it involves, as Professor Bain says, the activity; so that, while we accept the Articles of our Faith as true, we prepare ourselves to act upon them, just as readily as we should accept a sovereign for twenty shillings.
Is our faith, and the action which springs from it, reasonable ? St. Peter said, "Be ready always to give to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you" (1 S. Peter 3-15). "Let reason be kept to; and if any part of the Scripture account of the redemption of the world by Christ can be shown to be contrary to it, let the Scripture in the Name of God be given up" (Butler's Analogy, p. 2; c. 5). Christians hold by their religion, because they believe with Bishop Butler that it is a reasonable religion. Now let us observe that "reasonable" does not mean "demonstrable." We do not undertake to prove all the Articles of our Faith to be true in the same way in which we can prove a sum in Arithmetic or a proposition in Euclid. We do not say, "I can prove that there is a God, and that He is the Father Almighty; I can prove that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, bora of the Virgin Mary; I can prove that the dead will rise again and be judged by Jesus Christ, etc." We do not assert in our Creed that the Articles of our Faith can be proved, or that they cannot be proved, to be true. What we say is, "I believe them to be true; they are reasonable; they are credible, and sufficiently credible to warrant us, as reasonable men, in acting upon them." Many things, which are not demonstrable, are credible and sufficiently page 4 probable to warrant us, us rational men, in acting upon them. When Mr. Mason and I left England, we had a journey of twelve thousand miles, or more, before us. Our friends came on board the steamer at Liverpool to wish us good-bye, but they did not tell us that we were unreasonable because we could not prove that we should ever reach New Zealand. We set out in faith; we trusted ourselves to our ship, and here we are safe and sound. The principle of faith, which leads us constantly to act upon what we believe to be credible and probable, is one of the main springs of human energy; without it civilization would be quite impossible. If men were such sceptics, as constantly to refuse to act upon anything which they could not prove to be true, the business of lite would not be done.
In our religion we make ventures of faith, just as we do in every thing else. A Christian is a believer, who is prepared to act upon his belief. Our Christianity rests upon our Creed. If you destroy the Creed, the motive for Christian action is gone. Now let us go on to ask, "What its my Creed?""What am I, as a member of the Church of England, bound to believe? You will find your answer—(i.) in the office for the Ministration of Baptism, where the person to be baptized is asked, "Dost thou believe in God the Father, etc.?" "Wilt thou be baptized in this faith ?" The faith in which we are baptized is contained in the Apostles' Creed.
Then, (ii.) in the Church Catechism we acknowledge ourselves "bound to believe" all the Articles of the Christian Faith; which are contained in the Apostles' Creed.
When (iii.) a sick person desires the ministrations of the Church to prepare him to meet his God in death, his pastor is authorised to use these words to him, "I require you to examine yourself, both toward God and man; . . . Therefore, I shall rehearse to you the 'Articles of our Faith,' that you may know whether you do believe, as a Christian man should, or no." The Articles of Faith rehearsed to the sick man are the Articles of the Apostles' Creed, and nothing else. It is important to understand this clearly. A man is not asked, when he desires to enter the Church through Baptism, to express his faith in any particular theory of the inspiration of the Bible, or to explain his views about prophecy or miracles. He is asked, if he believes steadfastly all the Articles of the Apostles' Creed. Those Articles are the "Credenda," the things to be fully believed and acted upon, by the Christian layman. If he holds that faith steadfastly, he may be baptized, confirmed, receive the Holy Communion, and, when he dies, he may receive the last Sacrament as one who "believes as a Christian man should."page 5
Is this a reasonable belief ? We often hear persons say: "There are so many different forms of belief, that I do not know what to believe; there is no certainty in Christian teaching." Now it is not reasonable for a member of the Church of England to use such language. He has no excuse for it. His creed is the Apostles' Creed. If you ask a Roman Catholic to give his opinion as to the Apostles' Creed, he will say at once: It is true. Ask a member of the Greek Church, and he will say the same. So will a Lutheran, or a Presbyterian, or a Wesleyan. If a number of witnesses in a court of justice all agree in giving their testimony on certain main facts of the case, their testimony is not invalidated, because there are other minor matters on which they disagree. We may safely say that nine-tenths of all the Christians in the world agree in their belief that the articles of the Apostles' Creed are true. The creed of the lay member of the Church of England is not an unreasonable belief. He shares it with nine-tenths of all his fellow-Christians in the world. The divisions of Christendom ought not to shake our faith in our Creed. The different Christian societies point to the Apostles' Creed and say, whatever else is doubtful, that is true; hold it fast. That Creed, says the Church of England, is essential, and it is sufficient for you. Live up to that faith and you will be saved.
Now let us consider the Creed in some detail. I believe in God. Here we depart (1) from the Atheist, who says, "I believe in no God;" (2) from the Agnostic, who says, "I believe that God is unknowable; " (3) from the Positivist, who agrees with the Agnostic, but feels within him an instinct of worship, and endeavours to satisfy it by worshipping "The Great Being, Humanity."
Is it reasonable to believe in God? (1) We see everything in motion around us, above us, every where. The human mind asks, "Whence is all this motion?" Nothing moves itself. A stationary body will remain motionless for ever, unless it receives a push from something outside itself. Who gave to the whirling universe the first push ? The Churchman's Creed answers this question satisfactorily. "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth."
"O God, Creation's secret force,
Thyself, unmoved, all motion's source;
Who, from the mom till evening's ray,
Through all its changes guid'st the day."
The belief in God, as the First Mover of all things, is a reasonable belief.
(2) The writings of Mr. Darwin and other naturalists have revealed to us design in nature on a large scale. They have exploded, page 6 what has been sometimes called the 'carpenter theory of the universe,' which conceived of each thing in nature as though it was planned by itself without reference to what came before it and what went after it, as a workman makes a box or a clock They have brought into clearer light the wonderful creative energy which unfolds itself in vast evolutions. The scientific doctrine of evolution, if not absolutely proved, is, to say the least, highly probable, and it certainly discloses design and purpose in the vast chain of causation which is in operation in the universe. The mind sees that all this causation must have some primary, efficient cause, and Mr. Herbert Spencer has made the remarkable statement, that "amidst the mysteries, which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain one absolute certainty, that we are ever in the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed." (Nineteenth Century, January, 1884.) Now, if the agnostic philosopher uses the language of positive assertion in declaring that all the mysteries of nature proceed from an Infinite, Eternal and Omnipotent Energy, it does not seem unreasonable in the Christian to attribute that Energy to "God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth." St. Thomas Aquinas said : "Dews est purusactus. "He thought of God as pure Act or Energy, and this belief does not contradict the philosophical certainty of Mr. Spencer. It supplements it in a reasonable manner. It is reasonable to believe in God, as the Efficient Cause of all things.
(3) Every thing we see is contingent on something else. Nothing, of which we have any experience, has an independent existence. The mind asks for some necessary self-existing Being, not depending on anything else; and the Creed gives an answer to the enquiry of the mind. It is reasonable to think of God as the only self-existing Being, the independent Being, Who contains within Himself the fullness of all perfections. Now. if it is said that this reasoning does not prove the existence of God, I reply once more, that my object was not to prove the existence of God, but to shew the reasonableness of our belief in God. If we could prove all the articles of our Creed, faith would be impossible, and the primary Christian virtue could not exist. Faith, not absolute knowledge, is required for the perfection of the Christian character. It is better to love God than to know all things.
(4) We may next consider the desires of our nature. The Psalmist said: "My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God." Thirst for God expresses itself in prayer, worship, sacrifice, and other acts of religion. Religion in some form is an universal fact. "If savage means people without government, laws, and religion, then, go where you will, you will not find such a race." (Professor Max Muller, Nineteenth Century, January, 1885.)page 7
Natural desire is not in vain. "The larva of the male stag-beetle, when it becomes a chrysalis, constructs a larger case than it needs to contain its curled-up body, in order that the horns, which will presently grow, may also find room. What does the larva know of its future existence ? And yet it arranges its house with a view to it. Is it to be supposed, that the same power, which created the beetle and the man, instilled into the beetle a true instinct, and into the man a lying faith, which makes him arrange his present life with a view to a future one?" (Dr. Christlieb, Modern Doubt, p. 157.) The swallow is not deceived when she migrates to escape the cold English winter. If the instincts are true in the lower animals, in the beetles and birds, why is it unreasonable to regard the highest instinct of the highest creature as true also ? Religion is an universal human instinct. It is the expression of the sense of dependence on a Being outside of us; and our Creed gives a reasonable expression to the universal instinct in its highest form, when it teaches us to say, "I believe in God the Father Almighty." Our religious instinct does not cry out for an universal impersonal energy, but for a Father; and our Creed is true to Nature. Nature does nothing in vain. If you find an ear, you find sound to match it; if you find an eye, you find light; if you find a fin, you find the wave: if you find a wing, you find air; if you find the instinct of prayer, it is reasonable to expect to find also the Father in Heaven, Who hears prayer.
But, it may be said, if God is a Father Almighty, how is it that there is pain, and death, and evil, in the world ? Mrs. Besant, in her autobiography, describes the sufferings of her dying baby, and tells us that she cried out against God, "How canst thou torture it so?" Now let us observe, that Christianity did not bring sin and pain and death into the world. These terrible things exist in the universe whether we are Christians or not. Our Creed throws a reasonable light on them, shows us how to bear them, to overcome them, to get good out of them. The Creed teaches us that God made all things, and that He made all things good. Evil is not the creation of God, it is disorganization caused by the wrong use of free-will in angels and men. The Creed teaches us to expect "the life everlasting," when evil will be overcome by God, who is ever turning evil into good. It is enough to say, when we see suffering, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed" (Romans viii. 18). "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. iv. 17). The Creed teaches that God is my Father. If He is my Father, I must in some sense be like Him, and that likeness page 8 is seen in my moral nature. If I am God's son and like my Heavenly Father, I must be free to choose between good and evil. If I were not morally free, I should be a beast and not a man. God has created us to be His sons, capable of a real friendship with Him. Is not this belief reasonable ? Is there not a conscience in me, which steadily points its finger to a God to Whom I am accountable ? Conscience is a fact, account for its existence how you will. You cannot get rid of it. Does not the Creed give a reasonable answer to the voice of conscience ? It says: Believe in God as your Father, as a moral Governor, who rewards righteousness, punishes iniquity, and pardons the penitent. Is it not reasonable to believe in a righteous and merciful God.
The Trinity.—The chief things which I learn in my Creed are : To believe (1) in God the Father; (2) in God the Son; (3) in God the Holy Ghost. This is not an unreasonable belief It is not the same as believing that one is the same as three, and three the same as one The doctrine of the Trinity is that "In unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance" (Article I). Let me give a natural illustration. In Sutton Park, Warwickshire, there is a well called Rowton Well; out of the well a clear stream continually flows into a pool called Longmoor Pool. The water in the well, in the stream, and in the pool is of one substance; a chemist would tell you that it has the same elements of oxygen and hydrogen, and the same natural properties. Yet you can distinguish between the well, and the stream, and the pool The water in the well, stream, and pool, is one water, one natural substance; but the water in the pool proceeds from the well and from the stream; the water in the stream proceeds from the well; the water in the well is neither from the stream nor from the pool. This rough, natural illustration may suffice to show that it is not unreasonable to speak of Three Persons in One God, and to say, "The Father is of none; the Son is of the Father alone; the Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son. The Three Divine Persons are related to each other as Father, Son, and Spirit, yet have one and the same Divine Substance or Nature.
Belief in the Trinity is a reasonable belief, if we believe that God is Love. Love must have some object to love, or else it must exist as an unsatisfied desire. If we adopt the Unitarian conception of God, we are met with this difficulty : Either God is not love, and then He lacks the brightest perfection of His Being; or He must have had an eternally unsatisfied desire, which is an unreasonable supposition. The Son of God was the object of the Father's love "before the world was" (S. John iii 35, xvii. 5) . Is it not reasonable to believe in God, as the God of Love, and, if so, to believe in the Trinity, which alone makes eternal love possible ?page 9
The Incarnation.—The doctrine of the Incarnation is this : "The Son, which is the Word of the Father, the Very and Eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very man" (Article II.).
Is this a reasonable belief ? If we believe in God, we believe Him to be perfectly good. If God were not perfectly Good. He would be imperfect, and therefore not God, for God must have in Himself all perfection. Now it is of the nature of goodness to do good. If God is the Highest Good, it is reasonable to expect to find Him doing good in a Divine way on a vast scale. The Incarnation is the manifestation of the Infinite goodness of God. God is Love. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish" (S. John iii. 16). Is not such a Gift worthy of the Giver? Such a Gift speaks of Divine unselfishness. It accords with our belief that God is Infinitely good It is not reasonable to measure the goodness and the self-sacrificing love of God by the standards of human selfishness.
It is reasonable to believe in the Incarnation, because the Incarnation is a bridge between the Infinite and the finite, and such a bridge is needed. Why is it unreasonable to believe that all things are made for a good end, and that the Incarnation is the Divine way of bringing the groaning and travailing creation "from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God?" (Romans viii. 21, Rev. xxi. 4).
The Atonement.—If the Incarnation is reasonable, why not the Atonement ? If Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross, is a Divine Person, then His Agony and Bloody Sweat, His Cross and Passion, must have been a Divine Work. Is it not reasonable to believe in the power of such a sacrifice, though we are unable to explain the precise nature of it? Belief that the Sacrifice of Calvary was a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world" is a reasonable belief, when you view it in the light of the Incarnation; and it is a belief which meets the wants of conscience-stricken men.
Miracles.—How strange it would have seemed if God the Son had become Man, and had not shewn His power over nature. Once believe in the Incarnation, and it seems quite fitting that the Son of God should reveal His Divine life by healing the sick, raising the dead, page 10 quelling the storm, feeding the multitude with a few loaves and fishes. The miracles and prophecies of the Old Testament fall in with this view, and are reasonable, when once you believe in the greater miracle of the Incarnation. Does it not seem becoming that men should have been prepared for such an event as the Incarnation by preparatory miracles and prophecy?
Jesus Christ.—If belief in the Incarnation is reasonable, then the character of Jesus Christ entirely accords with all that we could expect from God Incarnate. Jesus Christ was sinless Man. He could say fearlessly in a public audience, "Which of you convicteth Me of sin?" (S. John viii. 56). Pontius Pilate, His judge, said, "I having examined Him before you, found no fault in this man. . . . no, nor yet Herod; for he sent Him back unto us; and behold, nothing worthy of death hath been done by Him" (S. Luke xxiii. 15). Jesus Christ never felt the guilt of personal sin, never expressed sorrow for anything He had said or done. His best servants have always confessed themselves to be sinners. Jesus Christ said of God the Father, "I do always those things that please Him (S. John viii. 29). Has any other, any sane man, ever dared to use such language ? Does it not accord with our belief that He is the Son of God ?
Jesus Christ was truthful. What did He say of Himself? "All men should honour the Son as they honour the Father" (S. John v. 23). He did not stand before the world as an Agnostic philosopher. He said, "My witness is true; for I know whence I came and whither I go." "I came out from the Father and am come into the world: again I leave the world and go unto the Father" (S. John viii. 14, xvi. 28). The miracles, the teaching, the claims of Jesus Christ are all in accord with our reasonable belief in the Incarnation.
The belief in the Incarnation is reasonable; it shews us how the higher life of God has been introduced into the lower world. God acts on a large scale in nature, but He does nothing per saltum, by leaps, and bounds, and sudden violent changes. There is an evolution in the union of the Divine Life with the first principle of our human nature. This life is represented as gradually working, like leaven, first in the Incarnation, then in regeneration, then in the resurrection, then in that "restoration of all things, whereof God spake by the mouth of His holy prophets which have been since the world began" (Acts iii. 21). The wicked are not made good or the righteous perfect by an arbitrary 'fiat,' but by the introduction into the universe of an adequate cause, a new principle of life. The Incarnation and its results are credible. The belief is a reasonable belief, a belief which page 11 exalts our conception of God, and of His Divine love and wisdom. It lifts us up out of our poor, unworthy ideas of God, and makes us know and feel that he is good, and that His mercy endureth forever. It is reasonable to act on such a belief.
The Resurrection and Eternal Life.—This follows, as a matter of course, from our belief in the Incarnation. "Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead?" (Acts xxvi. 8.) The world in which we live existed for ages and ages before life was possible on its surface. At last life came. Was not that a startling change ? Heat, electricity, magnetism, light, sound, gravitation, had all been in operation for perhaps millions of years, but there was no life. Suppose some pure spirits had been able to observe all this and to tabulate what they observed in a scientific manner. Suppose, further, that some of them had claimed inspiration and had steadily predicted that there was a life to come into this world, that the air, water, land, would teem with infinite varieties of living creatures, and that the highest order of these creatures, with bodies taken out of the dust, should become so glorious and intellectual, as to be able to measure the distance between the planets, and to analyse even the fiery vapours in the sun. Would not that have been as difficult an article of belief for those spirits, as is our belief in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come? Past experience would have made the advent of life into the world improbable, but past experience would have been wrong, and the prophetic inspiration would have been right. When we are positively told by Jesus Christ that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a life of the world to come, we do not think that we are unreasonable in giving credit to His word. He said, "My teaching is not Mine, but His that sent Me" (S. John vii. 16). "All things that I heard from My Father I have made known unto you" (S. John xv. 15). We look at the life, character, and wisdom of Jesus Christ and believe that He is a faithful and true witness, Who is to be trusted. There is no more reason in itself against a resurrection life to come, than there could have been in ages past against the advent of natural life. The advent of natural life could not have been discovered by the past experience of such intelligences as we have supposed, for the sake of argument, to have witnessed the history of the world through myriads of ages as it was cooling down. The resurrection life cannot be discovered by scientific researches, but it is credible, and belief in it is not unreasonable. Moreover the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is thoroughly well authenticated. No one denies that the first Epistle to the Corinthians was written by St. Paul. In that epistle he states that "If Christ be not risen then is page 12 our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain." He appeals to the testimony of nearly five hundred living witnesses who had seen Christ after He rose from the dead (1 Cor. xv. 6). It is incredible that St. Paul would have made such a statement, if the witnesses had not been forthcoming. Belief in the resurrection of Christ is reasonable, and if we believe in His resurrection, it is reasonable to believe also in our own.
The Bible.—There is no reference to the Bible in the Apostles' Creed. The Church of England speaks of the Bible in the following words :—"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation : so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an Article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."—(Article VI.). No theory of Inspiration is bound upon us, as an Article of Faith.
"'The purely organic (that is mechanical) theory of Inspiration rests on no Scriptural authority, and, if we except a few ambiguous metaphors, is supported by no historical testimony. It is at variance with the whole form and fashion of the Bible, and it is destructive of all that is holiest in man and highest in religion.' These are the words of one writer. Now I will read you the words of another:—' It will not do to say that it is not verbally inspired. If the words are not inspired, what is ?' Now, who are these writers ? Who is this Secularist who thus denies the verbal Inspiration of the Bible? He is the greatest living authority on the history of the Bible, the Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, Canon Westcott, whose textbooks are used by all candidates for the ministry in our Church, and are almost universally studied by Nonconformists; and, I need hardly say, who holds the Inspiration of Scripture not less tenaciously than I do. And who is this theologian, this champion of the Faith, who so stoutly asserts verbal Inspiration as the theory held by Christians? He is the well-known Secularist writer of America, Colonel Robert Ingersoll. But what right has he to put into the mouths of Christians a definition of Inspiration which is so utterly unsubstantiated by Scripture, by historical testimony, repudiated by the greatest living theologians, and by the vast majority, if not the whole, of the educated Christian ministers in the world ?"
("The Theory of Inspiration by Rev. J. W. Wilson, Chaplain to the Lord Bishop of Exeter," p. 22.)
We may and do believe our Bibles to be the inspired Word of God, but we must not fashion for ourselves mechanical theories of Inspiration which cannot be proved to be true, and which the Church page 13 of God does not impose on us. We shall do well, if we find difficulty in understanding portions of our Bible, to consider these wise words of Bishop Butler :—
"From analogical reasoning, Origen has, with singular sagacity, observed, that he who believes the scripture to have proceeded from Him who is the Author of nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in it as are found in the constitution of nature. And in a like way of reflection it may be added, that, he who denies the Scripture to have been from God upon the account of these difficulties, may for the very same reason, deny the world to have been formed by Him." (Butler's Analogy. Introduction). We should believe and use our Bibles in the reasonable way indicated by our Church formularies and by our best theologians.
Prayer.—Mrs. Annie Besant, in her Autobiography, uses these words : "I had entirely given up the use of prayer, not because I was an Atheist, but because I was still a Tbeist. It seemed to me absurd to pray, if I believed in a God, Who was wiser and better than rnyself. The all-wise God did not need my suggestions; an all-good God would do all that is best without my prompting. Prayer appeared to me a blasphemous impertinence, and for a considerable time I had discontinued its use. But God fades gradually out of the daily life of those who never pray. A God who is not a Providence is a superfluity. When from the Heaven does not smile a listening Father, it soon becomes an empty space whence resounds no echo of man's cry."
These sad words were answered by anticipation six hundred years ago by St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the thirteenth century. St. Thomas taught that prayers are not addressed to God for His information, but in order that we should not forget our need of Divine Succour. "Your Heavenly Father knoweth ye have need of all these things" (S. Matt. vi. 32.) But He wills that we should learn to submit our wills to His Will; and this we do when we present our desires to Him in prayer. God gives us many things unasked, but others He grants in response to prayer, for our sakes, that we may have the blessedness of fellowship with Him, and of recognising Him as the source of all our good St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa 2, 2, 83, 2)
Is not this a reasonable view of prayer? Mrs. Besant testifies that "God fades out of the daily life of those who never pray." It seems reasonable then that our Heavenly Father should have taught His children to pray, in order that they might "have the blessedness of fellowship with H.m," and not think of heaven as "an empty space whence resounds no echo of man's cry."page 14
A second difficulty with respect to prayer has thus been stated by the Rationalistic Commentator, Dr. Kalisch:--"Ancient writers saw the difficulty, that different men of equal earnestness and piety often pray for opposite things, which the Deity cannot answer simultaneously. Some sailors, observe Lucian, pray for a North wind, others fora South wind, a farmer desires rain, a cloth-worker sunshine, and Jupiter is often uncertain, hesitating in his decision "(Kalisch on Leviticus, vol. I. p. 433). It is sufficient to say in reply to this objection, that petitions are often addressed to governments by rival political partizans for "opposite things which the government cannot possibly grant simultaneously;" yet petitions to Parliament are not abandoned as vain and useless. It was said at the time of the Free Trade agitation that two petitions went up to London from Coventry in the same train. One was for Free Trade in corn, the other was for protection to the Coventry ribbon-trade. The petitioners asked for what they believed to be good, but the Government had to consider what was for the good of the whole nation, and they repealed the corn laws, but did not protect the ribbons. It is not unreasonable to pray for what we believe to be good, but every prayer is supposed to be offered in the spirit of our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane, when He said, "Father if Thou be willing remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will but Thine be done" (S. Luke xxii. 42). We do not dictate to God in prayer; we supplicate.
Another difficulty connected with prayer has been also stated by Dr. Kalisch in the following terms :—
"If every effect produced in the material world is the consequence of a commensurate physical cause to which it is intrinsically related, human supplications, sacrifices, fasting, or any other form of devotion, cannot possibly exercise any influence on the course of events, or on the destiny of man. There exists no conceivable connection between the one and the other. . . the ideas of prayer and a change in the course of natural phenomena refuse to be connected in thought."
This objection was also anticipated by St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught that prayer does not change the Divine order, but comes within it. It is one of the links in the chain of Divine causation, and it produces effects which would not be produced without it. He points out that human actions are the causes of some effects; and human actions are largely influenced by prayers. If you ask your servant to light the fire, your request, or prayer, is complied with, and a change in the course of some natural phenomena takes place at once; heat is page 15 liberated; light is produced; atmospheric conditions are changed. It is thus evident that the "ideas of prayer and a change in the course of natural phenomena" do not "refuse to be connected in thought."
In Mr. J. Cook's Monday Lectures the following words are attributed to Professor Tyndall :—
"I view nature, existence, the universe, as the key-board of a pianoforte. What came before the bass I do not know and do not care; what comes after the treble I equally little know or care. The key board, with its black and white keys, is mine to study." (Lecture on Hereditary Taints in Blood, p. 109).
Mr. Herbert Spencer has told us that, "We know with absolute certainty that we are ever in the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed." Now, if men of science teach us to think of the universe as the key board of a pianoforte, and, further, tell us that we may say with absolute certainty that we are ever in the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy; is it unreasonable for a Christian to connect the key-board with the Energy, and to say, I believe that this Energy is the Infinite and Eternal Energy of God, Who is the Musician seated at the key-board of the universe ? In prayer we do not ask God to break the laws of His instrument, but He can vary its harmonies at His pleasure. The Holy Ghost is called in the Bible the Finger of God, and He it is Who teaches us to pray; for, We know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us; . . .according to the will of God" (Romans viii. 26). He teaches us to frame our petitions in accordance with the laws of the Divine Harmony. Why is it more reasonable to think of the universe as a musical instrument, turned by a handle, like a barrel organ, than to think of it as a pianoforte, controlled and touched by the omnipresent Spirit, Who is called in the Bible the "Finger of God ?" (S. Luke xi. 20; S. Matt. xii. 28). "The Spirit of the Lord (Who) filleth the world" (Wisdom 1.7), can vary the harmonies of his instrument at His pleasure without breaking His own laws. Hr understands the music of His own creation (Genesis 1, 2).
We may further apply this illustration to miracles, and regard them as notes in harmony with the Universal Law, but notes beyond our reach, our powers of using. A musician, seated at a piano of seven and a half octaves, might play for a long time without touching either the highest or the lowest notes. Extend the compass of the piano in each direction, and you see the key-board of the universe. There are some notes on this key board which we can touch. We can alter the course of events, and cause changes in the course of natural phenomena to some extent. Why is it unreasonable to believe that God can and will page 16 do more than we can do; can touch all the notes which are on the great key-board, but are far out of our sight and reach, and can move the wonderful correlated forces of the universe in answer to prayer ? A human father can and does answer the prayer of his child, who says to him, Father, play for me this or that tune. "If ye being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in Heaven, give good things to them that ask Him?" (S. Matt. vii. 11).
Our Religion is a reasonable Religion; it is based on a reasonable Faith. Let us then "hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for He is faithful that promised." Hebrews x. 23.
W. McCullough, Church and General Printer, High Street, Auckland.