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PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION.
THE various Criticisms to which these Lectures have been subjected since the publication of the last Edition, seem to call for a few explanatory remarks on the positions principally controverted. Such remarks may, it is hoped, contribute to the clearer perception of the argument in places where it has been misunderstood, and are also required in order to justify the republication, with little more than a few verbal alterations, of the entire work in its original form.
On the whole, I have no reason to complain of my Critics. With one or two exceptions, the tone of their observations has been candid, liberal, and intelligent, and in some instances more favorable than I could have ventured to expect. An argument so abstruse, and in some respects so controversial, must almost inevitably call forth a considerable amount of opposition; and such criticism is at least useful in stimulating further inquiry, and in pointing out to an author those among 10 his statements which appear most to require explanation or defence. If it has not done more than this, it is because the original argument was not put forth without much previous consideration, nor without anticipation of many of the objections to which it was likely to be exposed.
At present, I must confine myself to those explanations which appear to be necessary to the right appreciation of the main purposes of the work, on the supposition that its fundamental principles may be admitted as tenable. To reargue the whole question on first principles, or to reply minutely to the criticisms on subordinate details, would require a larger space than can be allotted to a preface, and would be at least premature at the present stage of the controversy, while the work has in all probability not yet completed the entire course of criticism which a new book is destined to undergo if it succeeds in attracting any amount of public attention.
In the first place, it may be desirable to obviate some misapprehensions concerning the design of the work as a whole. It should be remembered, that to answer the objections which have been urged against Christianity, or against any religion, is not to prove the religion to be true. It only clears the ground for the production of the proper evidences. It shows, so far as it is successful, that the religion may be true, notwithstanding the objections by which it has been assailed; but it 11 cannot by itself convert this admission into a positive belief. It only calls for an impartial hearing of the other grounds on which the question must be decided.
When, therefore, a critic objects to the present argument, that “the presence of contradictions is no proof of the truth of a system;” that “we are not entitled to erect on this ethereal basis a superstructure of theological doctrine, only because it, too, possesses the same self-contradictions;” that “the argument places all religions and philosophies on precisely the same level;”—he merely charges it with accomplishing the very purpose which it was intended to accomplish. So far as certain difficulties are inherent in the constitution of the human mind itself, they must of necessity occupy the same position with respect to all religions,—the false no less than the true. It is sufficient if it can be shown that they have not, as is too often supposed, any peculiar force against Christianity alone. No sane man dreams of maintaining that a religion is true because of the difficulties which it involves: the utmost that can reasonably be maintained is that it may be true in spite of them. Such an argument of course requires, as its supplement, a further consideration of the direct evidences of Christianity; and this requirement is pointed out in the concluding Lecture. But it formed no part of my design to exhibit in detail the evidences themselves;—a task which the many excellent works already existing on that subject would have rendered 12 wholly unnecessary, even if it could have been satisfactorily accomplished within the limits of the single Lecture which alone could have been given to it.
But granting for the present the main position of these Lectures, namely, that the human mind inevitably and by virtue of its essential constitution, finds itself involved in self-contradictions whenever it ventures on certain courses of speculation; it may be asked, in the next place, what conclusion does this admission warrant, as regards the respective positions of Faith and Reason in determining the religious convictions of men. These Lectures have been charged with condemning, under the name of Dogmatism, all Dogmatic Theology; with censuring, “the exercise of Reason in defence and illustration of the truths of Revelation;” with including “schoolmen and saints and infidels alike” in one and the same condemnation. Such sweeping assertions are surely not warranted by anything that is maintained in the Lectures themselves. Dogmatism and Rationalism are contrasted with each other, not as employing reason for opposite purposes, but as employing it in extremes. The contrast was naturally suggested by the historical connection between the Wolfian philosophy and the Kantian, the one as the stronghold of Dogmatism, the other of Rationalism. The religious philosophy of Wolf and his followers, whose system, and not that of either “’schoolmen or saints,” is cited as the chief specimen of Dogmatism, was 13 founded on the assumption that philosophical proofs of theological doctrines were absolutely necessary in all cases. “He maintained,” says a writer quoted in the Notes, “that philosophy was indispensable to theology, and that, together with biblical proofs, a mathematical or strictly demonstrative dogmatical system, according to the principles of reason, was absolutely necessary.” Dogmatism, as thus exemplified, is surely not the use of reason in theology, but its abuse. Unless a critic is prepared to accept, as legitimate reasoning, Canz’s demonstration of the Trinity, cited at p. 232 of the present volume, or the more modern specimen of the same method noticed at p. 51, he must surely admit the conclusion which these instances were adduced to prove; namely, that the methods of the Dogmatist and the Rationalist are alike open to criticism, “in so far as they keep within, or go beyond those limits of sound thought which the laws of man’s mind, or the circumstances in which he is placed, have imposed upon him.”
All Dogmatic Theology is not Dogmatism, nor all use of Reason Rationalism, any more than all drinking is drunkenness. The dogmatic or the rational method may be rightly or wrongly employed, and the question is to determine the limits of the legitimate or illegitimate use of each. It is expressly as extremes that the two systems are contrasted: each is described as leading to error in its exclusive employment, yet as being, in its utmost error, only a truth abused. If reason may not be 14 used without restriction in the defence any more than in the refutation of religious doctrines; if there are any mysteries of revelation which it is our duty to believe, though we cannot demonstrate them from philosophical premises,—this is sufficient to show that the provinces of Faith and Reason are not coextensive. But to assert this is surely not to deny, that the dogmatic method may be and has been rightly used within certain limits. The dogmatism which is condemned is not system, but the extravagance of system. If systematic completeness is made the end which the theologian is bound to pursue, at every cost; if whatever is left obscure and partial in revealed truth is, as a matter of necessity, to be cleared and completed by definitions and inferences, certain or uncertain; if the declarations of Scripture are in all cases to be treated as conclusions to be supported by philosophical premises, or as principles to be developed into philosophical conclusions,—then indeed Dogmatic Theology is in danger of degenerating into mere Dogmatism. But it is only the indiscriminate use of the method which is condemned, and that not simply as an employment of reason in religious questions, but as an employment beyond its just limits. And if, in citing instances of this misuse, it has been occasionally necessary to point out the errors of writers whose names are justly honored in the Church, and whose labors, as a whole, are entitled to the reverence and gratitude of posterity, I wish distinctly to state, that the censure, 15 such as it is, reaches only to the points directly indicated, by reference or quotation, and is not intended to apply further.
What, then, is the practical lesson which these Lectures are designed to teach concerning the right use of reason in religious questions? and what are the just claims of a reasonable faith, as distinguished from a blind credulity? In the first place, it is obvious that, if there is any object whatever of which the human mind is unable to form a clear and distinct conception, the inability equally disqualifies us for proving or disproving a given doctrine, in all cases in which such a conception is an indispensable condition of the argument. If, for example, we can form no positive notion of the Nature of God as an Infinite Being, we are not entitled either to demonstrate the mystery of the Trinity as a necessary property of that Nature, or to reject it as necessarily inconsistent therewith. Such mysteries clearly belong, not to Reason, but to Faith; and the preliminary inquiry which distinguishes a reasonable from an unreasonable belief, must be directed, not to the premises by which the doctrine can be proved or disproved as reasonable or unreasonable, but to the nature of the authority on which it rests, as revealed or unrevealed. The brief summary of Christian Evidences contained in my concluding Lecture,11 See below, p. 214. and others which might be added to them, are 16 surely sufficient to form an ample field for the use of Reason, even in regard to those mysteries which it cannot directly examine. If to submit to an authority which can stand the test of such investigations, and to believe it when it tells us of things which we are unable to investigate,—if this be censured as a blind credulity, it is a blindness which in these things is a better guide than the opposite quality so justly described by the philosopher as “the sharp-sightedness of little souls.”
In the second place, a caution is needed concerning the kind of evidence which reason is competent to furnish within the legitimate sphere of its employment. If we have not such a conception of the Divine Nature as is sufficient for the a priori demonstration of religious truth, our rational conviction in any particular case must be regarded, not as a certainty, but as a probability. We must remember the Aristotelian rule, to be content with such evidence as the nature of the object-matter allows. A single infallible criterion of all religious truth can be obtained only by the possession of a perfect Philosophy of the Infinite. If such a philosophy is unattainable; if the infinite can only be apprehended under finite symbols, and the authority of those symbols tested by finite evidences,—there is always room for error, in consequence of the inadequacy of the conception to express completely the nature of the object. In other words, we must 17 admit that human reason, though not worthless, is at least fallible, in dealing with religious questions; and that the probability of error is always increased in proportion to the partial nature of the evidence with which it deals. Those who set up some one supreme criterion of religious truth, their “Christian consciousness,” their “religious intuitions,” their “moral reason,” or any other of the favorite idols of the subjective school of theologians, and who treat with contempt every kind of evidence which does not harmonize with this, are especially liable to be led into error. They use the weight without the counterpoise, to the imminent peril of their mental equilibrium. This is the caution which it was the object of my concluding Lecture to enforce, principally by means of two practical rules; namely, first, that the true evidence, for or against a religion, is not to be found in any single criterion, but in the result of many presumptions examined and compared together; and, secondly, that in proportion to the weight of the counter-evidence in favor of a religion, is the probability that we may be mistaken in supposing a particular class of objections to have any real weight at all.
These considerations are no less applicable to moral than to speculative reasonings. The moral faculty, though furnishing undoubtedly some of the most important elements for the solution of the religious problem, is no more entitled 18 than any other single principle of the human mind to be accepted as a sole and sufficient criterion. It is true that to our sense of moral obligation we owe our primary conception of God as a moral Governor; and it is also true that, were man left solely to a priori presumptions in forming his estimate of the nature and attributes of God, the moral sense, as being that one of all human faculties whose judgments are least dependent on experience, would furnish the principal, if not the only characteristics of his highest conception of God. But here, as elsewhere, the original presumption is modified and corrected by subsequent experience. It is a fact which experience forces upon us, and which it is useless, were it possible, to disguise, that the representation of God after the model of the highest human morality which we are capable of conceiving, is not sufficient to account for all the phenomena exhibited by the course of His natural Providence. The infliction of physical suffering, the permission of moral evil, the adversity of the good, the prosperity of the wicked, the crimes of the guilty involving the misery of the innocent, the tardy appearance and partial distribution of moral and religious knowledge in the world,—these are facts which no doubt are reconcilable, we know not how, with the Infinite Goodness of God; but which certainly are not to be explained on the supposition that its sole and sufficient type is to be found in the finite goodness of man. What right, then, has the philosopher to assume that a criterion 19 which admits of so many exceptions in the facts of nature may be applied, without qualification or exception, to the statements of revelation?
The assertion that human morality contains in it a temporal and relative element, and cannot, in its highest manifestation, be regarded as a complete measure of the absolute Goodness of God, has been condemned by one critic as “rank Occamism,”22 It is in fact the very reverse of the doctrine usually attributed to Occam, which admits of no distinction between absolute and relative morality, but maintains that, as all distinction of right and wrong depends upon obedience or disobedience to a higher authority, therefore the Divine Nature must be morally indifferent, and all good and evil the result of God’s arbitrary Will. The above assertion, on the other hand, expressly distinguishes absolute from relative morality, and regards human virtue and vice as combining an eternal and a temporal element,—the one an absolute principle grounded in the immutable nature of God; the other a relative application, dependent upon the created constitution of human nature. But I am by no means sure that the “Invincible Doctor” has been quite fairly dealt with in this matter. and contrasted with the teaching of “that marvellously profound, cautious, and temperate thinker,” Bishop Butler; it has been denounced by another, of a very different school, as “destructive of healthful moral perception.” That the doctrine in question, instead of being opposed to Butler, is directly taken from him, may be seen by any one who will take the trouble to read the extract from the Analogy quoted at p. 211. But it is of little importance 20 by what authority an opinion is sanctioned, if it will not itself stand the test of sound criticism. The admission, that a divine command may, under certain circumstances, justify all act which would not be justifiable without it, is condemned by some critics as holding out an available excuse for any crime committed under any circumstances. If God can suspend, on any one occasion, the ordinary obligations of morality, how, it is asked, are we to know whether any criminal may not equally claim a divine sanction for his crimes? Now where, as in the present instance, the supposed exceptions are expressly stated as supernatural ones, analogous to the miraculous suspension of the ordinary laws of nature, this objection either proves too much, or proves nothing at all. If we believe in the possibility of a supernatural Providence at all, we may also believe that God is able to authenticate His own mission by proper evidences. The objection has no special relation to questions of moral duty. It may be asked, in like manner, how we are to distinguish a true from a false prophet, or a preacher sent by God from one acting on his own responsibility. The possibility of a special divine mission of any kind will of course be denied by those who reject the supernatural altogether; but this denial removes the question into an entirely different province of inquiry, where it has no relation to any peculiar infallibility supposed to attach to the moral reason, above the other faculties of the human mind.21
Those who believe, with the Scriptures, that the Almighty has, at certain times in the world’s history, manifested Himself to certain nations or individuals in a supernatural manner, distinct from His ordinary government of the world by the institutions of society, will scarcely be disposed to admit the assumption, that God could not on such occasions justify by His own authority such acts as are every day justified by the authority of the civil magistrate whose power is delegated from Him. To assert, with one of my critics, that upon this principle, “the deed which is criminal on earth may be praiseworthy in heaven,” is to distort the whole doctrine and to beg the whole question. For we must first answer the previous inquiry: Does not a deed performed under such circumstances cease to be criminal at all, even upon earth? The question, so far as moral philosophy is concerned, is simply this: Is the moral quality of right or wrong an attribute so essentially adhering to acts as acts, that the same act can never vary in its character according to the motives by which it is prompted, or the circumstances under which it is committed? If we are compelled, as every moralist is compelled, to answer this question in the negative, we must then ask, in the second place, whether the existence of a direct command from the supreme Governor of the world, supposing such a command ever to have been given, is one of the circumstances which can in any degree affect the character of an act. On this question, to judge merely by the 22 conflicting statements on opposite sides, men whose moral judgments are equally trustworthy may differ one from another; but that very difference is enough to show that the moral reason is not by itself a sufficient and infallible oracle on such questions. The further inquiry, whether such a command has ever, as a matter of fact, been given; and how, if given, it can be distinguished from counterfeits, is one which does not fall within the province of moral philosophy, in itself or in its relation to theology. The philosopher, as such, can at most only prepare the way for this inquiry, if he can succeed in showing that there is nothing in the moral reason of man which entitles it to pronounce on a priori grounds, that such a command is absolutely impossible.
It remains to make some remarks on another of the opinions maintained in the following Lectures, on which, to judge by the criticisms to which it has been subjected, a few words of explanation may be desirable. It has been objected by reviewers of very opposite schools. that to deny to man a knowledge of the Infinite is to make Revelation itself impossible, and to leave no room for evidences on which reason can be legitimately employed. The objection would be pertinent, if I had ever maintained that Revelation is or can be a direct manifestation of the Infinite Nature of God. But I have constantly asserted the very reverse. In Revelation, as in Natural Religion, God is represented under 23 finite conceptions, adapted to finite minds; and the evidences on which the authority of Revelation rests are finite and comprehensible also. It is true that in Revelation, no less than in the exercise of our natural faculties, there is indirectly indicated the existence of a higher and more absolute truth, which, as it cannot be grasped by any effort of human thought, cannot be made the vehicle of any valid philosophical criticism. But the comprehension of this higher truth is no more necessary, either to a belief in the contents of Revelation or to a reasonable examination of its evidences, than a conception of the infinite divisibility of matter is necessary to the child before it can learn to walk.
But it is a great mistake to suppose, as some of my critics have supposed, that if the Infinite, as an object, is inconceivable, therefore the language which denotes it is wholly without meaning, and the corresponding state of mind one of complete quiescence. A negative idea by no means implies a negation of all mental activity.33 See Sir W. Hamilton’s Discussions, p. 602. It implies an attempt to think, and a failure in accomplishing the attempt. The language by which such ideas are indicated is not like a word in an unknown tongue, which excites no corresponding affection in the mind of the hearer. It indicates a relation, if only of difference, to that of which we are positively conscious, and a consequent effort to pass from the one to the other. This 24 is the case even with those more obvious negations of thought which arise from the union of two incongruous finite notions. We may attempt to conceive a space enclosed by two straight lines; and it is not till after the effort has been made that we become aware of the impossibility of the conception. And it may frequently happen, owing to the use of language as a substitute for thought, that a process of reasoning may be carried on to a considerable length, without the reasoner being aware of the essentially inconceivable character of the objects denoted by his terms. This is especially likely when the negative character of the notion depends, not, as in the above instance, on the union of two attributes which cannot be conceived in conjunction, but on the separation of those which cannot be conceived apart. We can analyze in language what we cannot analyze in thought; and the presence of the language often serves to conceal the absence of the thought. Thus, for example, it is impossible to conceive color apart from extension; an unextended color is therefore a purely negative notion. Yet many distinguished philosophers have maintained that the connection between these two ideas is one merely of association, and have argued concerning color apart from extension, with as much confidence as if their language represented positive thought. The speculations concerning the seat of the immaterial soul may be cited as another instance of the same kind. Forgetting that, to human thought, position in space and occupation of 25 space are notions essentially bound together, and that neither can be conceived apart from the other, men have carried on various elaborate reasonings, and constructed various plausible theories, on the tacit assumption that it is possible to assign a local position to an unextended substance. Yet, considering that extension itself is necessarily conceived as a relation between parts exterior to each other, and that no such relation can be conceived as an ultimate and simple element of things, it would be the mere dogmatism of ignorance to assert that a relation between the extended and the unextended is in itself impossible; though assuredly we are unable to conceive how it is possible.
It is thus manifest that, even granting that all our positive consciousness is of the Finite only, it may still be possible for men to speculate and reason concerning the Infinite, without being aware that their language represents, not thought, but its negation. They attempt to separate the condition of finiteness from their conception of a given object; and it is not till criticism has detected the self-contradiction involved in the attempt, that we learn at last that all human efforts to conceive the infinite are derived from the consciousness, not of what it is, but only of what it is not.44 A critic in the National Review is of opinion that “relative apprehension is always and necessarily of two terms together;” and “if of the finite, then also of the infinite.” This is true as regards the meaning of the words; but by no means as regards the conception of the corresponding objects. If extended to the latter, it should in consistency be asserted that the conception of that which is conceivable involves also the conception of that which is inconceivable; that the consciousness of anything is also a consciousness of nothing; that the intuition of space and time is likewise an intuition of the absence of both.26
Whatever value may be attached, in different psychological theories, to that instinct or feeling of our nature which compels us to believe in the existence of the Infinite, it is clear that, so long as it remains a mere instinct or feeling, it cannot be employed for the purpose of theological criticism. The communication of mental phenomena from man to man must always be made in the form of thoughts conveyed through the medium of language. So long as the unbeliever can only say, “I feel that this doctrine is false, but I cannot say why;” so long as the believer can only retort, “I feel that it is true, but I can give no reason for my feeling,”—there is no common ground on which either can hope to influence the other. So long as a man’s religion is a matter of feeling only, the feeling, whatever may be its influence on himself, forms no basis of argument for or against the truth of what he believes. But as soon as he interprets his feelings into thoughts, and proceeds to make those thoughts the instruments of criticism constructive or destructive, he is bound to submit them to the same logical criteria to which he himself subjects the religion on which he is commenting. In this relation, it matters not what may be 27 the character of our feeling of the infinite, provided our conception cannot be exhibited without betraying its own inherent weakness by its own self-contradictions. That such is the case with that philosophical conception of the Absolute and Infinite which has prevailed in almost every philosophy of note, from Parmenides to Hegel, it has been the aim of these Lectures to show. If a critic maintains that philosophy, notwithstanding its past failures, may possibly hereafter succeed in bringing the infinite within the grasp of reason, we may be permitted to doubt the assertion until the task has been actually accomplished.
The distinction between speculative and regulative truths, which has also been a good deal misapprehended, is one which follows inevitably from the abandonment of the philosophy of the Absolute. If human thought cannot be traced up to an absolutely first principle of all knowledge and all existence; if our highest attainable truths bear the marks of subordination to something higher and unattainable,—it follows, if we are to act or believe at all, that our practice and belief must be based on principles which do not satisfy all the requirements of the speculative reason. But it should be remembered that this distinction is not peculiar to the evidences of religion. It is shown that in all departments of human knowledge alike,—in the laws of thought, in the movement of our limbs, in the perception 28 of our senses, the truths which guide our practice cannot be reduced to principles which satisfy our reason; and that, if religious thought is placed under the same restrictions, this is but in strict analogy to the general conditions to which God has subjected man in his search after truth. One half of the rationalist’s objections against revealed religion would fall to the ground, if men would not commit the very irrational error of expecting clearer conceptions and more rigid demonstrations of the invisible things of God, than those which they are content to accept and act upon in all the concerns of their earthly life.
The above are all the explanations which, so far as I can at present
judge, appear to be desirable, to obviate probable misapprehensions regarding the
general principles advocated in these pages. Had I thought it worth while to enter
into controversy on minute questions of detail, or to reply to misapprehensions
which are due solely to the inadvertence of individual readers,55 A writer in the Christian Observer has actually mistaken
the positions against which the author is contending for those which he maintains,
and on the strength of this mistake has blundered through several pages of vehement
denunciation of the monstrous consequences which follow from the assumption that
the philosophical conception of the absolute is the true conception of God. The
absolute and the infinite, he tells us (in opposition to the Lecturer!!!), “are
names of God unknown to the Scriptures:” “The conception of infinity is plainly
negative:” “the absolute and infinite, as defined in the Lectures after the leaders
of German metaphysics, is no synonym for the true and living God:” and “a philosophy
of the so-called absolute is a spurious theology.” Est il possible?
The same critic denounces, as “radically and thoroughly untrue,” the distinction between speculative and regulative truths, and the consequent assertion that action, and not knowledge, is man’s destiny and duty in this life, and that his highest principles, both in philosophy and in religion, have reference to this end. “On the contrary,” he says, “all right action depends on right knowledge.” As if this were not the very meaning of a regulative truth,—knowledge for the sake of action.
Another critic asserts that the author “sweeps down schoolmen and saints and infidels alike, with the assertion that dogmatism and rationalism equally assign to some superior tribunal the right of determining what is essential to religion and what is not.” Had he looked a second time at the page which he quotes, he would have seen that this is said of rationalism alone. I might have extended these remarks 29to a considerably greater length. For the present I shall content myself with only two further observations; one on a single sentence, the language of which, having been misinterpreted in more than one quarter, may perhaps need a brief explanation; the other on a matter affecting, not the literary merit of these Lectures, but the personal honesty of their author.
The sentence occurs at p. 76, in the following words: “‘What kind of an Absolute Being is that,’ says Hegel, ‘which does not contain in itself all that is actual, even evil included?’ We may repudiate the conclusion with indignation; but the reasoning is unassailable. If the Absolute 30 and Infinite is an object of human conception at all, this, and none other, is the conception required.”
This passage has been censured by more than one critic, as involving the skeptical admission that a false conclusion can be logically deduced from true premises. The concluding words may explain the real meaning. The whole argument is designed to show that to speak of a conception of the Absolute implies a self-contradiction at the outset, and that to reason upon such a conception involves ab initio a violation of the laws of human thought. That reasoning based on this assumption must end by annihilating itself, is surely no very dangerous concession to the skeptic. Suppose that an author had written such a sentence as the following:
“A circular parallelogram must have its opposite sides and angles equal, and must also be such that all lines drawn from the centre to the circumference shall be equal to each other. The conclusion is absurd; but the reasoning is unassailable, supposing that a circular parallelogram can be conceived at all.”
Would such a statement involve any formidable consequences either to geometry or to logic?
It remains only to say a few words on a question of fact, 31 involving one of the most serious accusations that can be brought against the character of an author. A writer in the Rambler, to whom in other respects I feel indebted for a liberal and kindly appreciation of my labors, has qualified his favorable judgment by the grave charge that the “whole gist of the book” is borrowed without acknowledgment from the teaching of Dr. Newman, as a preacher or as a writer. Against a charge of this kind there is but one possible defence. No obligation was acknowledged, simply because none existed. I say this, assuredly with no intention to speak slightingly of one whose transcendent gifts no differences should hinder me from acknowledging; but because it is necessary, in justice to myself, to state exactly the relation in which I stand towards him. Dr. Newman’s teaching from the University pulpit was almost at its close before my connection with Oxford began: his parochial sermons I had very seldom an opportunity of hearing. His published writings might doubtless have given me much valuable assistance; but with these I was but slightly acquainted when these Lectures were first published; and the little that I knew contained nothing which appeared to bear upon my argument. This is but one out of many deficiencies, of which I have been painfully conscious during the progress of the work, and which I would gladly have endeavored to supply, had circumstances allowed me a longer time for direct preparation.32
The point, indeed, on which the Reviewer lays the most stress, is one in which there was little room for originality, either in myself or in my supposed teacher. That Revelation is accommodated to the limitations of man’s faculties, and is primarily designed for the purpose of practical religion, and not for those of speculative philosophy, has been said over and over again by writers of almost every age, and is indeed a truth so obvious that it might have occurred independently to almost any number of thinkers. Doubtless there is no truth, however trite and obvious, which may not assume a new and striking aspect in the hands of a great and original writer; and in this, as in other respects, a better acquaintance with Dr. Newman’s works might have taught me a better mode of expressing many arguments to which my own language may have done but imperfect justice. Even at this late hour, I am tempted to subjoin, as a conclusion to these observations, one passage of singular beauty and truth, of which, had I known it earlier, I would gladly have availed myself, as pointing out the true spirit in which inquiries like these should be pursued, and the practical lesson which they are designed to teach.
“And should any one fear lest thoughts such as these should tend to a dreary and hopeless skepticism, let him take into account the Being and Providence of God, the Merciful and True; and he will at once be relieved of 33 his anxiety. All is dreary till we believe, what our hearts tell us, that we are subjects of His Governance; nothing is dreary, all inspires hope and trust, directly we understand that we are under His hand, and that whatever comes to us is from Him, as a method of discipline and guidance. What is it to us whether the knowledge He gives us be greater or less, if it be He who gives it? What is it to us whether it be exact or vague, if He bids us trust it? What have we to care whether we are or are not given to divide substance from shadow, if He is training us heavenward by means of either? Why should we vex ourselves to find whether our deductions are philosophical or no, provided they are religious? If our senses supply the media by which we are put on trial, by which we are all brought together, and hold intercourse with each other, and are disciplined, and are taught, and enabled to benefit others, it is enough. We have an instinct within us, impelling us, we have external necessity forcing us, to trust our senses, and we may leave the question of their substantial truth for another world, ‘till the day break, and the shadows flee away.’ And what is true of reliance on our senses, is true of all the information which it has pleased God to vouchsafe to us, whether in nature or in grace.”66 University Sermons, p. 351.
Oxford, February 18th, 1859.3435
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