Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

tabernacle with a vehemence suited only to the protection of the ark! Is this reason to abate one iota of that faith, hope, and love, which, as with a living cord of threefold strand, binds the hearts of its followers? The fan may be in the hand of Culture, but it is the duty of Faith to hold that nought but the husk, which human fear, prejudice, and ignorance, have in the course of ages wrapped round the kernel of the grace and truth of God, will be swept away. Loss there will be, but it is the loss which the tribulum causes when it threshes out the grain, and separates it from the chaff. True, that chaff not many months before was a tender, beautiful sheath to protect the growing grain. But it is so no longer, and hence, ere the grain can serve the purpose of man, must be removed. No tender regard for what it was, prevents the husbandman from casting it on one side. Shall the spiritual husbandman be less discerning in relation to what is of the nature of the essence and accident of that “kingdom which cannot be removed?” How happy is he who may be able to recognise, even in the action of that Culture whose spirit may be hostile, but the hand of this century loosening the bonds of the past from that faith in which the soul of man can alone find rest. The eye of Faith should grow clearer, as the era grows older, to discern what is kernel and what is shell; its hand more supple to hold what is vital, or relax what would be as perilous as deck cargo to the ship in the stress of storm. That there is difficulty, none who have made the attempt will deny. But notwithstanding the difficulty, the work must be persevered in.

Faith may be looked at under these several aspects:- The writings in which it is conserved, the symbolism by which the interpretation of their contents has been represented to the world, the ecclesiasticism by which organised societies have sought to propagate it, and the cultus by which it is nourished in the hearts of its disciples.

In glancing at its incidence in these several directions, the ground is so broad that the reference must necessarily be cursory, but it is well to bear in mind that where it is as full as each phase merits, Culture will ever be a presence more felt than seen,—that it will give a tone where it will not change a term, and by the temper it breathes be none the less potent, though its influence be difficult of definition.

Very naturally, the quarter where the pressure is most felt, aye and most feared, is that which we have placed first. First in order, it is first in importance. The several rays of its several attainments in the clear, cold light of its many ologies, converge here.

[ocr errors]

Physics and metaphysics, philology and archæology, geography and history, have all lent their aid to the “higher criticism,” as it is called, whose analysis to the eye of Faith has looked more like the ravages of a foe than the researches of a friend. But, as when the Word became flesh, He took part of the same flesh and blood which belonged to the nature of the brethren He came to redeem, so, when in times past and divers ways, He gave those thoughts and truths, which are spirit and life, they were given, it is to be borne in mind, under all the varied and varying conditions of language. Language, from its very nature, is the reflex of the life of the day in which it is uttered. Nothing is more material than speech. At every turn it bears the print of the souls and times using it.

In the case of these documents, bearing in their bosom treasures vital to the dearest hopes of the race; to analyse them we have to go back thousands of years, to place ourselves in the midst of times, countries, a civilisation and a life, whose social, political, moral, and international conditions and relations, are as remote in nature as in time from our own. To disentangle these elements; set them forth with clearness and distinctness; show how they coloured the speech of the day, defined the moral factors which gave worth to that speech, and the relation of these to that truth which is for all ages and all races; is a work which the slow toils of scholarship will find practically inexhaustible. The contributions of every succeeding century will imply some modification of those which have gone before. In the light of this difficult problem, the resolution of all those facts and ideas which go to make up the matrix of that speech in which revelation is contained; at what point can Faith stay and cry, “ thus far, but no further?” To censure this would be to pronounce a condemnation on labours by which her own bonds have been broken in the past, and she has been able to go forth in the largeness and liberty of her divine life. Yea, it is to go further; it implies a practical impeachment of that government of the world which these documents affirm is in the interest of the Church, and the avowal of a doubt that Faith will not be able to enlist the gold of a richer intellect and the silver of a more accomplished scholarship on the side of the truth it conserves, than is at the service of a sceptical Culture. Its work will be to see that under this treatment these documents do not become like the flower in the hand of the botanist, when its beauty vanishes and it is prepared as a specimen for his museum, or the living body under the vivisecting knife of the physiologist, when the mystery and order of life is succeeded VOL. III.-No. 13.

D

by the decay and dissolution of death, and they be left but as other sacred writings, the same in kind as the “ Fire Kings and Foon Shoo” of the Chinese, the Vedas of the Hindoo, and the Zendavesta of the Parsee. The doctrine of inspiration that will not tolerate this, needs revising. It were a poor compliment to pay the will by which humanity has become the legatee of an inheritance of the most precious character, to say that it will not bear the simplest scrutiny. But such is not the case. To indicate the bearing and influence of Culture in this direction, let one whose competency none will question, speak. Thus Dr. Lightfoot (now Bishop of Durham) says:

“The language of the New Testament is beset with difficulties, as long as we consider Christ only in connection with the Gospel revelation, but when with the apostle (Paul) we realise in Him the same divine Lord, who ever has been the light of the whole world, who before Christianity wrought first in mankind at large through the avenues of conscience, and after, more particularly in the Jews, through a special though imperfect revelation, then all these difficulties fall away. Then we understand the significance and we recognise the truth of such passages as these, ‘No man cometh unto the Father but by me,'. He that believeth not the Son, shall not see life.'

But the principle underlying these sentences has a scope,

I apprehend, that will cover the widest demands of culture, and, applied to the books of the Old Testament, has given rise and prominence to problems which have evoked an interest-yea, contest, the issue of which is not yet.

But their closing words suggest a point of transition to another phase of the controversy, viz., the relation of the highest Culture to their most characteristic demands. These, or a kindred logia, have naturally staggered many of the apostles of Culture. Writers, e.g., of the Greg school, do not hesitate to affirm that this demand for belief is intellectually weakening, whilst it is morally degrading. For reasons easily discernible, it is strenuously resisted. It seems fatal to the very exercise of those powers which it is the pride and glory of Culture to develop. “I am,” says the culturist, “ asked to accept that, which I must first exercise my reason upon ere I can know whether I ought to accept it. Challenged to the proof of its truthfulness or serviceableness, I am asked at the outset to concede that, into the reasonableness and morality of which I am charged to examine." The fallacy underlying such reasoning is to be met only by such a representation of the nature of Christian faith as shall save it from appearing as a species of cabalistic magic, by which, if a man says he believes, he is at once saved from the consequences of

* Prolegomena to the Epistle to the Colossians.

a bad past, and placed in the light of that grasp of his mental, emotional and moral nature by which, not only this special truth, but any other truth can be made effective. On its physical side, Culture, by the lens of scientific fact, is setting old truths in a new light. In “heredity," it is showing us the mystic fingers of a past utterly beyond our control, weaving into the warp and woof of our souls a dread factor, whose weight and work none but the Unseen can fully gauge. In "environment,” it is asserting, with solemn emphasis, the mighty print which the social, moral, political, educational, and physical influences around are leaving upon men. In the “ persistency of energy,” moral as well as material, it is but setting in the new light of scientific discovery and scientific nomenclature, the old truth, that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

It is neither the duty nor policy of Faith to answer the real or seeming antagonism of these and other doctrines to the Christian position by worn theologic phrase, but rather to show that “inspired truth is the breathing of Infinite Reason and must be reasonable, and must admit in a great measure of being exhibited in that light.” The material and the moral form but one system,—the former being for and subordinate to the latter; and, granting the postulate that there is an adaptation between the distinctive doctrines of the Christian Revelation and the moral nature and the moral wants of man, there should be no doubt but that these will be vindicated, whatever may be the march of intellect or the triumphs of discovery in other realms. Whatever adjustment or modification of statement Culture here may render necessary, it will be but the distinction between the popular and scientific presentation of any other familiar fact.

The issue on the basis of the Christian Faith must remain untouched. Let this be despised, neglected, scorned,—the nobler side of humanity becomes the prey and slave of the baser. Here alone is secure warrant for men who feel themselves to be but "children in the night, children crying for the light,” to take that sublimest of utterances into their lips, “Father God!" Here alone is the hope that maketh not ashamed, and which plants the soul high above the power of the bitterest ills of earth, a hope which the grand stoicism of such noble pagans as Epictetus and the Antonines could never reach. Let Christ in His word and work be ignored,—the issue can be but spiritual failure and moral wreck to man, or in the language challenged, “he shall not see life.”

Glancing in the direction of the symbolism of the Churches, the work of Culture is of interest and importance in this field, in the light it has thrown upon the conditions of intellectual and moral life which gave them birth; the current of thought and opinion which agitated the foremost men of the day; the moral, ecclesiastical and psychological sympathies and antipathies which dominated those whose minds gave them the shape they bear. The toils of the historian of doctrine are full of instruction. His pages abound in graphic pictures of those contests fought over particular theological propositions. And as the geologist will detail the mode by which certain rocks were formed, the forces that gave direction and consistency to these lines in the earth's autobiography; so the historian will give life and body to the opinions that gave shape and form to parts of these creeds; and in not a few instances will be compelled to note the wondrous heat which generated on odium theologicum that has long since died out, and left these the fossil remains of defunct contentions which are not likely to be galvanised into life. But in doing this, he will make clear that other antichrists have arisen, and against these it is the Church needs to protest, as our fathers protested against the antichrists of their day. It may seem to be but a truism, but yet it is one of those truisms the heights and depths of which are most inadequately gauged: all symbols—from the ten words which form the heart of that covenant which constituted Israel the elect of God-have taken their form from the moral and intellectual conditions of the age which gave them birth. Fifty years since, that keen and thoughtful writer, Isaac Taylor wrote:

“ Causes which need hardly be specified, have hitherto excluded from the precincts of theology the reform which has spread through every department of natural science. The dogmatic fanaticism which raged at the time of the Reformation, passed down uncorrected upon the political and ecclesiastical constitutions of Europe, and especially upon those of England, and now grasps the religious commonwealth.

So far as we are religious, the English is a nation of sects, and our theology is necessarily a theology of faction. It is not a false theology, thank God ! but it is a theology em. barrassed, imperfect, gloomy-a theology which consists of antagonist propositions, not simply true, but true only as a contradiction of error."

And then, with a prescience characteristic of his pages, anticipating that demand which Culture tends to make more articulate, he adds:

“The art of criticism and the true logic of interpretation, a logic in every sense the reverse of the polemic and metaphysic, must restore to the Church, under that guidance which is never denied when ingenuously sought, the pure meaning of Scrip

« AnteriorContinuar »