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YE SHALL NOT ADD UNTO THE WORD WHICH I COMMAND YOU, NEITHER SHALL YE DIMINISH AUGHT FROM IT.—DEUT. IV. 2.
DOGMATISM and Rationalism are the two extremes between which religious philosophy perpetually oscillates. Each represents a system from which, when nakedly and openly announced, the well regulated mind almost instinctively shrinks back; yet which, in some more or less specious disguise, will be found to underlie the antagonist positions of many a theological controversy. Many a man who rejects isolated portions of Christian doctrine, on the ground that they are repugnant to his reason, would hesitate to avow broadly and unconditionally that reason is the supreme arbiter of all religious truth; thiough at the same time he would find it hard to point out any particular in which the position of reason, in relation to the truths which he still retains, differs from that which it occupies in relation to those which he rejects. And on the other hand, there are many who, while they would by no means construct a dogmatic system on the assumption that the conclusions of reason may always be 46 made to coincide with those of revelation, yet, for want of an accurate distinction between that which is within the province of human thought and that which is beyond it, are accustomed in practice to demand the assent of the reason to positions which it is equally incompetent to affirm or to deny. Thus they not only lessen the value of the service which it is capable of rendering within its legitimate sphere, but also indirectly countenance that very intrusion of the human intellect into sacred things, which, in some of its other aspects, they so strongly and so justly condemn.
In using the above terms, it is necessary to state at the outset the sense in which each is employed, and to emancipate them from the various and vague associations connected with their ordinary use. I do not include under the name of Dogmatism the mere enunciation of religious truths, as resting upon authority and not upon reasoning. The Dogmatist, as well as the Rationalist, is the constructor of a system; and in constructing it, however much the materials upon which he works may be given by a higher authority, yet in connecting them together and exhibiting their systematic form, it is necessary to call in the aid of human ability. Indeed, whatever may be their actual antagonism in the field of religious controversy, the two terms are in their proper sense so little exclusive of each other, that both were originally employed to denote the same persons;—the name Dogmatists or Rationalists being indifferently given to those medical theorists who insisted on the necessity of calling in the aid of rational principles, to support or correct the conclusions furnished by experience.(1) A like signification is to be found in the later language of philosophy, when the term Dogmatists was used to denote those philosophers who endeavored 47 to explain the phenomena of experience by means of rational conceptions and demonstrations; the intelligible world being regarded as the counterpart of the sensible, and the necessary relations of the former as the principles and ground of the observed facts of the latter.(2) It is in a sense analogous to this that the term may be most accurately used in reference to Theology. Scripture is to the theological Dogmatist what Experience is to the philosophical. It supplies him with the facts to which his system has to adapt itself. It contains in an unsystematic form the positive doctrines, which further inquiry has to exhibit as supported by reasonable grounds and connected into a scientific whole. Theological Dogmatism is thus an application of reason to the support and defence of preëxisting statements of Scripture.(3) Rationalism, on the other hand, so far as it deals with Scripture at all, deals with it as a thing to be adapted to the independent conclusions of the natural reason, and to be rejected where that adaptation cannot conveniently be made. By Rationalism, without intending to limit the name to any single school or period in theological controversy, I mean generally to designate that system whose final test of truth is placed in the direct assent of the human consciousness, whether in the form of logical deduction, or moral judgment, or religious intuition; by whatever previous process those faculties may have been raised to their assumed dignity as arbitrators. The Rationalist, as such, is not bound to maintain that a divine revelation of religious truth is impossible, nor even to deny that it has actually been given. He may admit the existence of the revelation as a fact: he may acknowledge its utility as a temporary means of instruction for a ruder age: he may even accept certain portions as of universal and permanent 48 authority.(4) But he assigns to some superior tribunal the right of determining what is essential to religion and what is not: he claims for himself and his age the privilege of accepting or rejecting any given revelation, wholly or in part, according as it does or does not satisfy the conditions of some higher criterion to be supplied by the human consciousness.(5)
In relation to the actual condition of religious truth, as communicated by Holy Scripture, Dogmatism and Rationalism may be considered as severally representing, the one the spirit which adds to the word of God, the other that which diminishes from it. Whether a complete system of scientific Theology could or could not have been given by direct revelation, consistently with the existing laws of human thought and the purposes which Revelation is designed to answer, it is at least certain that such a system is not given in the Revelation which we possess, but, if it is to exist at all, must be constructed out of it by human interpretation. And it is in attempting such a construction that Dogmatism and Rationalism exhibit their most striking contrasts. The one seeks to build up a complete scheme of theological doctrine out of the unsystematic materials furnished by Scripture, partly by the more complete development of certain leading ideas; partly by extending the apparent import of the Revelation to ground which it does not avowedly occupy, and attempting by inference and analogy to solve problems which the sacred volume may indeed suggest, but which it does not directly answer. The other aims at the same end by opposite means. It strives to attain to unity and completeness of system, not by filling up supposed deficiencies, but by paring down supposed excrescences. Commencing with a preconceived theory of the purpose of a revelation and 49 the form which it ought to assume, it proceeds to remove or reduce all that will not harmonize with this leading idea; sometimes explaining away in the interpretation that which it accepts as given in the letter; sometimes denying, on a priori grounds, the genuineness of this or that portion of the sacred text; sometimes pretending to distinguish between the several purposes of Revelation itself, and to determine what portions are intended to convey the elements of an absolute religion, valid in all countries and for all ages, and what must be regarded as relative and accidental features of the divine plan, determined by the local or temporal peculiarities of the individuals to whom it was first addressed.
The two methods thus contrasted may appear at first sight to represent the respective claims of Faith and Reason, each extended to that point at which it encroaches on the domain of the other. But in truth the contrast between Faith and Reason, if it holds good in this relation at all, does so merely by accident. It may be applicable in some instances to the disciples of the respective systems, but not to the teachers; and even as regards the former, it is but partially and occasionally true. The disciples of the Rationalist are not necessarily the disciples of reason. It is quite as possible to receive with unquestioning submission a system of religion or philosophy invented by a human teacher, as it is to believe, upon the authority of Revelation, doctrines which no human reason is competent to discover. The so-called freethinker is as often as any other man the slave of some self-chosen master; and many who scorn the imputation of believing anything merely because it is found in the Bible, would find it hard to give any better reason for their own unbelief than the ipse dixit of some infidel philosopher. But when we turn from the 50 disciples to the teachers, and look to the origin of Dogmatism and Rationalism as systems, we find both alike to be the products of thought, operating in different ways upon the same materials. Faith, properly so called, is not constructive, but receptive. It cannot supply the missing portions of an incomplete system, though it may bid us remain content with the deficiency. It cannot of itself give harmony to the discordant voices of religious thought; it cannot reduce to a single focus the many-colored rays into which the light of God’s presence is refracted in its passage through the human soul; though it may bid us look forward to a time when the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped;77 Isaiah xxxv. 5. when that apparent discord shall be known but as the echo of a halfheard concert, and those diverging rays shall be blended once more in the pure white light of heaven. But Faith alone cannot suggest any actual solution of our doubts: it can offer no definite reconciliation of apparently conflicting truths; for in order to accomplish that end, the hostile elements must be examined, compared, accommodated, and joined together, one with another; and such a process is an act of thought, not of belief. Considered from this point of view, both Dogmatism and Rationalism may be regarded as emanating from the same source, and amenable to the same principles of 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 lie is placed, have imposed upon him.
In fact the two systems may be considered as both aiming, though in different ways, at the same end; that end being to produce a coincidence between what we believe and what we think; to remove the boundary which separates 51 the comprehensible from the incomprehensible. The Dogmatist employs reason to prove, almost as much as the Rationalist employs it to disprove. The one, in the character of an advocate, accepts the doctrines of revealed religion as conclusions, but appeals to the reason, enlightened, it may be, by Revelation, to find premises to support them. The other, in the character of a critic, draws his premises from reason in the first instance; and, adopting these as his standard, either distorts the revealed doctrine into conformity with them, or, if it obstinately resists this treatment, sets it aside altogether. The one strives to lift up reason to the point of view occupied by Revelation: the other strives to bring, down Revelation to the level of reason. And both alike have prejudged or neglected the previous inquiry,—Are there not definite and discernible limits to the province of reason itself, whether it be exercised for advocacy or for criticism?
Thus, to select one example out of many, the revealed doctrine of Christ’s Atonement for the sins of men has been alternately defended and assailed by some such arguments as these. We have been told, on the one hand, that man’s redemption could not have been brought about by any other means(6):—that God could not, consistently with his own attributes, have suffered man to perish unredeemed, or have redeemed him by any inferior sacrifice(7):—that man, redeemed from death, must become the servant of him who redeems him; and that it was not meet that he should be the servant of any other than God(8):—that no other sacrifice could have satisfied divine justice(9):—that no other victim could have endured the burden of God’s wrath.(10) These and similar arguments have been brought forward, as one of the greatest of their authors avows, to defend the teaching of the Catholic 52 Faith on the ground of a reasonable necessity.(11) While, on the other hand, it has been argued that the revealed doctrine itself cannot be accepted as literally true; because we cannot believe that God was angry, and needed to be propitiated(12):—because it is inconsistent with the Divine Justice that the innocent should suffer for the sins of the guilty(13):—because it is more reasonable to believe that God freely forgives the offences of his creatures(14):—because we cannot conceive how the punishment of one can do away with the guilt of another.(15)
I quote these arguments only as specimens of the method in which Christian doctrines have been handled by writers on opposite sides. To examine them more in detail would detain me too long from my main purpose. I shall not therefore at present consider whether the conclusions actually arrived at, on the one side or on the other, are in themselves reasonable or unreasonable, orthodox or heretical. I am concerned only with the methods respectively employed, and the need of some rule for their employment. May reason be used without restriction in defence or refutation of religions doctrines? And if not, what are the conditions of its legitimate use? It may be that this man has defended, on reasonable grounds, none but the most essential articles of the Christian Faith: but has he pointed out any rule which can hinder the same or similar reasoning from being advanced by another in support of the most dangerous errors? It may be that that man has employed the test of reasonableness, only in the refutation of opinions concerning which the church has pronounced no positive judgment: but has he fenced his method round with any cautions to prevent its being used for the overthrow of Christianity itself? If we can find no other ground than the arbitrary will of the man himself, why he 53 should stop short at the particular point which he has chosen, we may not perhaps condemn the tenets of the individual, but we may fairly charge his method with the consequences to which it logically leads us.
Thus, we find a late lamented writer of our own day, and at that time of our own church, defending the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ, on the metaphysical assumption of the real existence of an abstract humanity. “This,” he tells us, “is why the existence of human nature is a thing too precious to be surrendered to the subtleties of logic, because, upon its existence depends that real manhood of Christ, which renders him a copartner with ourselves.” And again: “To the reality of this work, the existence of that common nature is indispensable, whereby, as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself took part of the same. Else, how would the perfect assumption of humanity have consisted with His retaining that divine personality which it was impossible that He should surrender? Since it was no new person which He took, it can only have been the substratum, in which personality has its existence.”(16) In this case, our belief in the undeniable truth of the doctrine defended may dispose us to overlook the questionable character of the defence. But if we are inclined for a moment to acquiesce in this unnatural union of metaphysical premises and theological conclusions, we are recalled to ourselves by the recollection of the fearful consequence which Occam deduces from the same hypothesis, of the assumption by Christ of a “substratum in which personality has its existence;”—a consequence drawn in language which we shudder to read, even as it is employed by its author, merely for the purpose of 54 reducing to an absurdity the principles of his antagonists.(17)
There is an union of Philosophy with Religion in which each contributes to the support of the other; and there is also an union which, under the appearance of support, does but undermine the foundations and prey upon the life of both. To which of these two the above argument belongs, it needs but a bare statement of its assumption to determine. It tells us that our belief in the doctrine of God manifest in the flesh, indispensably depends upon our acceptance of the Realist theory of the nature of universal notions. Philosophy and Theology alike protest against such an outrage upon the claims, both of Reason and of Revelation, as is implied in this association of one of the most fundamental truths of the Christian Faith with one of the most questionable speculations of mediaeval metaphysics. What does Theology gain by this employment of a weapon which may, at any moment, be turned against her? Does it make one whit clearer to our understandings that mysterious two-fold nature of one Christ, very God, and very Man? By no means. It was a truth above human comprehension before; and it remains a truth above human comprehension still. We believe that Christ is both God and Man; for this is revealed to us. We know not how He is so; for this is not revealed; and we can learn it in no other way. Theology gains nothing; but she is in danger of losing everything. Her most precious truths are cut from the anchor which held them firm, and cast upon the waters of philosophical speculation, to float hither and thither with the ever-shifting waves of thought. And what does Philosophy gain? Her just domains are narrowed, and her free limbs cramped in their onward course. The problems 55 which she has a native right to sift to the uttermost, are taken out of the field of free discussion, and fenced about with religious doctrines which it is heresy to call in question. Neither Christian truth nor philosophical inquiry can be advanced by such a system as this, which revives and sanctifies, as essential to the Catholic Faith, the forgotten follies of Scholastic Realism, and endangers the cause of religion, by seeking to explain its greatest mysteries by the lifeless forms of a worn-out controversy. “Why seek ye the living among the dead? Christ is not here.”88 St. Luke xxiv. 5, 6.
But if the tendency of Dogmatism is to endanger the interests of religious truth, by placing that which is divine and unquestionable in too close an alliance with that which is human and doubtful, Rationalism, on the other hand, tends to destroy revealed religion altogether, by obliterating the whole distinction between the human and the divine. Rationalism, if it retains any portion of revealed truth as such, does so, not in consequence of, but in defiance of, its fundamental principle. It does so by virtually declaring that it will follow reason up to a certain point, and no further; though the conclusions which lie beyond that point are guaranteed by precisely the same evidence as those which fall short of it. We may select a notable example from the writings of a great thinker, who has contributed, perhaps, more than any other person to give a philosophical sanction to the rationalizing theories of his countrymen, yet from whose speculative principles, rightly employed, might be extracted the best antidote to his own conclusions, even as the body of the scorpion, crushed upon the wound, is said to be the best cure for its own venom.
Kant’s theory of a rational religion is based upon the 56 assumption that the sole purpose of religion must be to give a divine sanction to man’s moral duties.(18) He maintains that there can be no duties towards God, distinct from those which we owe towards men; but that it may be necessary, at certain times and for certain persons, to give to moral duties the authority of divine commands.(19) Let us hear: then the philosopher’s rational explanation, upon this assumption, of the duty of Prayer. It is a mere superstitious delusion, he tells us, to consider prayer as a service addressed to God, and as a means of obtaining His favor.(20) The true purpose of the act is not to alter or affect in any way God’s relation towards us; but only to quicken our own moral sentiments, by keeping alive within us the idea of God as a moral Lawgiver.(21) He, therefore, neither admits the duty unconditionally, nor rejects it entirely; but leaves it optional with men to adopt that or any other means, by which, in their own particular case, this moral end may be best promoted;—as if any moral benefit could possibly accrue from the habitual exercise of an act of conscious self-deception.
The origin of such theories is of course to be traced to that morbid horror of what they are pleased to call Anthropomorphism, which poisons the speculations of so many modern philosophers, when they attempt to be wise above what is written, and seek for a metaphysical exposition of God’s nature and attributes.(22) They may not, forsooth, think of the unchangeable God as if Ile were their fellow man, influenced by human motives, and moved by human supplications. They want a truer, a juster idea of the Deity as He is, than that under which He has been pleased to reveal Himself; and they call on their reason to furnish it. Fools, to dream that man can escape from himself, that 57 human reason can draw aught but a human portrait of God! They do but substitute a marred and mutilated humanity for one exalted and entire: they add nothing to their conception of God as He is, but only take away a part of their conception of man. Sympathy, and love, and fatherly kindness, and forgiving mercy, have evaporated in the crucible of their philosophy; and what is the caput mortuum that remains, but only the sterner features of humanity exhibited in repulsive nakedness? The God who listens to prayer, we are told, appears in the likeness of human mutability. Be it so. What is the God who does not listen, but the likeness of human obstinacy? Do we ascribe to him a fixed purpose? our conception of a purpose is human. Do we speak of Him as continuing unchanged? our conception of continuance is human. Do we conceive Him as knowing and determining? what are knowledge and determination but modes of human consciousness? and. what know we of consciousness itself, but as the contrast between successive mental states? But our rational philosopher stops short in the middle of his reasoning. He strips off from humanity just so much as suits his purpose;—“and the residue thereof he maketh a god;”99 Isaiah xliv. 17.—less pious in his idolatry than the carver of the graven image, in that he does not fall down unto it and pray unto it, but is content to stand off and reason concerning it. And why does he retain any conception of God at all, but that he retains some portions of an imperfect humanity? Man is still the residue that is left; deprived indeed of all that is amiable in humanity, but, in the darker features which remain, still man. Man in his purposes; man in his inflexibility; man in that relation to time from which no philosophy, whatever its pretensions, 58 can wholly free itself; pursuing with indomitable resolution a preconceived design; deaf to the yearning instincts which compel his creatures to call upon him.(23) Yet this, forsooth, is a philosophical conception of the Deity, more worthy of an enlightened reason than the human imagery of the Psalmist: “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers.”1010 Psalm xxxiv. 15.
Surely downright idolatry is better than this rational worship of a fragment of humanity. Better is the superstition which sees the image of God in the wonderful whole which God has fashioned, than the philosophy which would carve for itself a Deity out of the remnant which man has mutilated. Better to realize the satire of the Eleatic philosopher, to make God in the likeness of man, even as the ox or the horse might conceive gods in the form of oxen or horses, than to adore some half-hewn Hermes, the head of a man joined to a misshapen block.(24) Better to fill down before that marvellous compound of human consciousness whose elements God has joined together, and no man can put asunder, than to strip reason of those cognate elements which together furnish all that we can conceive or imagine of conscious or personal existence, and to deify the emptiest of all abstractions, a something or a nothing, with just enough of its human original left to form a theme for the disputations of philosophy, but not enough to furnish a single ground of appeal to the human feelings of love, of reverence, and of fear. Unmixed idolatry is more religious than this. Undisguised atheism is more logical.
Throughout every page of Holy Scripture God reveals himself, not as a Law, but as a Person. Throughout the 59 breadth and height and depth of human consciousness, Personality manifests itself under one condition, that of a Free Will, influenced, though not coerced, by motives. And to this consciousness God addresses Himself, when lihe adopts its attributes as the image under which to represent to man His own incomprehensible and ineffable nature. Doubtless in this there is much of accommodation to the weakness of man’s faculties; but not more than in any other representation of any of the divine attributes. By what right do we say that the conception of the God who hears and answers prayer1111 Psalm lxv. 2; St. James v. 16 is an accommodation, while that of Him in whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning1212 St. James i. 17. is not so? By what right do we venture to rob the Deity of half His revealed attributes, in order to set up the other half, which rests on precisely the same evidence, as a more (absolute revelation of the truth? By what right do we enthrone, in the place of the God to whom we pray, an inexorable Fate or immutable Law—a thing with less than even the divinity of a Fetish; since that may be at least conceived by its worshipper as capable of being offended by his crimes and propitiated by his supplications?
Yet surely there is a principle of truth of which this philosophy is the perversion. Surely there is a sense in which we may not think of God as though He were man; as there is also a sense in which we cannot help so thinking of Him. When we read in the same narrative, and almost in two consecutive verses of Scripture, “The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent; for He is not a man that He should repent;” and again, “The Lord repented that He had made Saul king over Israel:”1313 1 Sam. xv. 29, 35. we are imperfectly conscious 60 of an appeal to two different principles of representation, involving opposite sides of the same truth; we feel that there is a true foundation for the system which denies human attributes to God; though the superstructure, which has been raised upon it, logically involves the denial of His very existence.
What limits then can we find to determine the legitimate provinces of these two opposite methods of religious thought, each of which, in its exclusive employment, leads to errors so fatal; yet each of which, in its utmost error, is but a truth abused? If we may not, with the Dogmatist, force Philosophy into unnatural union with Revelation, nor yet, with the Rationalist, mutilate Revelation to make it agree with Philosophy, what guide can we find to point out the safe middle course? what common element of both systems can be employed to mediate between them? It is obvious that no such element can be found by the mere contemplation of the objects on which religious thought is exercised. We can adequately criticize that only which we know as a whole. The objects of Natural Religion are known to us in and by the ideas which we can form of them; and those ideas do not of themselves constitute a whole, apart from the remaining phenomena of consciousness. We must not examine them by themselves alone: we must look to their origin, their import, and their relation to the mind of which they are part. Revealed Religion, again, is not by itself a direct object of criticism: first, because it is but a part of a larger scheme, and that scheme one imperfectly comprehended; and secondly, because Revelation implies an accommodation to the mental constitution of its human receiver; and we must know what that constitution is, before we can pronounce how far the accommodation extends. But if partial knowledge must not be 61 treated as if it were complete, neither, on the other hand, may it be identified with total ignorance. The false humility which assumes that it can know nothing, is often as dangerous as the false pride which assumes that it knows everything. The provinces of Reason and Faith, the limits of our knowledge and of our ignorance, must both be clearly determined: otherwise we may find ourselves dogmatically protesting against dogmatism, and reasoning to prove the worthlessness of reason.
There is one point from which all religious systems must start, and to which all must finally return; and which may therefore furnish a common ground on which to examine the principles and pretensions of all. The primary and proper object of criticism is not Religion, natural or revealed, but the human mind in its relation to Religion. If the Dogmatist and the Rationalist have heretofore contended as combatants, each beating the air in his own position, without being able to reach his adversary; if they have been prevented from taking up a common ground of controversy, because each repudiates the fundamental assumptions of the other; that common ground must be sought in another quarter; namely, in those laws and processes of the human mind, by means of which both alike accept and elaborate their opposite systems. If human philosophy is not a direct guide to the attainment of religious truth (and its entire history too truly testifies that it is not), may it not serve as an indirect guide, by pointing out the limits of our faculties, and the conditions of their legitimate exercise? Witnessing, as it does, the melancholy spectacle of the household of humanity divided against itself, the reason against the feelings and the feelings against the reason, and the dim half-consciousness of the shadow of the infinite frowning down upon both, may 62 it not seek, with the heathen Philosopher of old, to find the reconciling and regulating principle in that justice, of which the essential character is, that every member of the system shall do his own duty, and forbear to intrude into the office of his neighbor?(25)
A criticism of the human mind, in relation to religions truth, was one of the many unrealized possibilities of philosophy, sketched out in anticipation by the far-seeing genius of Bacon. “Here therefore,” he writes, “I note this deficiency, that there hath not been, to my understanding, sufficiently enquired and handled the true limits and use of reason in spiritual things, as a kind of divine dialectic: which for that it is not done, it seemeth to me a thing usual, by pretext of true conceiving that which is revealed, to search and mine into that which is not revealed; and by pretext of enucleating inferences and contradictories, to examine that which is positive: the one sort falling into the error of Nicodemus, demanding to have things made more sensible than it pleaseth God to reveal them, ‘Quomodo possit homo nasci cum sit senex?’ the other sort into the error of the disciples, which were scandalized at a show of contradiction, ‘Quid est hoc quod dicit nobis, Modicum, et non videbitis me; et iterum, modicum, et videbitis me?’”(26)
An examination of the Limits of Religious Thought is an indispensable preliminary to all Religious Philosophy. And the limits of religious thought are but a special manifestation of the limits of thought in general. Thus the Philosophy of Religion, on its human side, must be subject to those universal conditions which are binding upon Philosophy in general. It has ever fared ill, both with Philosophy and with Religion, when this caution has been neglected. It was an evil hour for both, when Fichte 63 made his first essay, as a disciple of the Kantian school, by an attempted criticism of all Revelation.(27) The very title of Kant’s great work, and, in spite of many inconsistencies, the general spirit of its contents also, might have taught him a different lesson,—might have shown him that Reason, and not Revelation, was the, primary object of criticism. If Revelation is a communication from an infinite to a finite intelligence, the conditions of a criticism of Revelation on philosophical grounds must be identical with those which are required for constructing a Philosophy of the Infinite. For Revelation can make known the Infinite Being only in one of two ways; by presenting him as he is, or by representing him under symbols more or less adequate. A presentative Revelation implies faculties in man which can receive the presentation; and such faculties will also furnish the conditions of constructing a philosophical theory of the object presented. If, on the other hand, Revelation is merely representative, the accuracy of the representation can only be ascertained by a knowledge of the object represented; and this again implies the possibility of a philosophy of the Infinite. Whatever impediments, therefore, exist to prevent the formation of such a philosophy, the same impediments must likewise prevent the accomplishment of a complete criticism of Revelation. Whatever difficulties or contradictions are involved in the philosophical idea of the Infinite, the same or similar ones must naturally be expected in the corresponding ideas which Revelation either exhibits or implies. And if an examination of the problems of Philosophy and the conditions of their solution should compel us to admit the existence of principles and modes of thought which must be accepted as true in practice, though they cannot be explained in theory; the same practical acceptance may be 64 claimed, on philosophical grounds, in behalf of the corresponding doctrines of Revelation.
If it can be shown that the limits of religious and philosophical thought are the same; that corresponding difficulties occur in both, and, from the nature of the case, must occur, the chief foundation of religious Rationalism is cut away from under it. The difficulties which it professes to find in Revelation are shown to be not peculiar to Revelation, but inherent in the constitution of the human mind, and such as no system of Rationalism can avoid or overcome. The analogy, which Bishop Butler has pointed out, between Religion and the constitution and course of Nature, may be in some degree extended to the constitution and processes of the human mind. The representations of God which Scripture presents to us may be shown to be analogous to those which the laws of our minds require us to form; and therefore such as may naturally be supposed to have emanated from the same author. Such an inquiry occupies indeed but a subordinate place among the direct evidences of Christianity; nor is it intended to usurp the place of those evidences. But indirectly it may have its use, in furnishing an answer to a class of objections which were very popular a few years ago, and are not yet entirely extinguished. Even if it does not contribute materially to strengthen the position occupied by the defenders of Christianity, it may serve to expose the weakness of the assailants. Human reason may, in some respects, be weak as a supporter of Religion; but it is at least strong enough to repel an attack founded on the negation of reason.
“We know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. For now we see through a glass, 65 darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”1414 1 Cor. xiii. 9, 10, 12. Such is the Apostle’s declaration of the limits of human knowledge. “The logical conception is the absolute divine conception itself; and the logical process is the immediate exhibition of God’s self-determination to Being.”(28) Such is the Philosopher’s declaration of the extent of human knowledge. On the first of these statements is founded the entire Theology of Scripture: on the second is founded the latest and most complete exposition of the Theology of Rationalism. The one represents God, not as He is in the brightness of His own glory, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto;1515 1 Tim. vi. 16. but as He is reflected faintly in broken and fitful rays, glancing back from the restless waters of the human soul. The other identifies the shadow with the substance, not even shrinking from the confession that, to know God as He is, man must himself be God.(29) It turns from the feeble image of God in the soul of the individual man, to seek the entire manifestation of Deity in the collective consciousness of mankind. “Ye shall be as gods,”1616 Genesis iii. 5. was the earliest suggestion of the Tempter to the parents of the human race: “Ye are God,” is the latest assurance of philosophy to the human race itself.(30) Revelation represents the infinite God under finite symbols, in condescension to the finite capacity of man; indicating at the same time the existence of a further reality beyond the symbol, and bidding us look forward in faith to the promise of a more perfect knowledge hereafter. Rationalism, in the hands of these expositors, adopts an opposite view of man’s powers and duties. It claims to behold God as He is now: it finds a common object for Religion and Philosophy in the explanation of 66 God.(31) It declares Religion to be the Divine Spirit’s knowledge of himself through the mediation of the finite Spirit.(32)
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”1717 1 St. John iii. 2, 3. Philosophy too confesses that like must be known by like; but, reversing the hope of the Apostle, it finds God in the formis of human thought. Its kingdom is proclaimed to be Truth absolute and unveiled. It contains in itself the exhibition of God, as He is in His eternal essence, before the creation of a finite world.(33) Which of these two representations contains the truer view of the capacities of human reason, it will be the purpose of the following Lectures to inquire. Such an inquiry must necessarily, during a portion at least of its course, assume a philosophical, rather than a theological aspect; yet it will not perhaps on that account be less ultimately serviceable in theological controversy. It has been acutely said, that even if Philosophy is useless, it is still useful, as the means of proving its own uselessness.(34) But it is not so much the utility as the necessity of the study, which constitutes its present claim on our attention. So long as man possesses facts of consciousness and powers of reflection, so long he will continue to exercise those powers and study those facts. So long as human consciousness contains the idea of a God and the instincts of worship, so long mental philosophy will walk on common ground with religious belief. Rightly or wrongly, men will think of these things; and a knowledge of the laws under which they think is the only security for 67 thinking soundly. If it be thought no unworthy occupation for the Christian preacher, to point out the evidences of God’s Providence in the constitution of the sensible world and the mechanism of the human body; or to dwell on the analogies which may be traced between the scheme of revelation and the course of nature; it is but a part of the same argument to pursue the inquiry with regard to the structure and laws of the human mind. The path may be one which, of late years at least, has been less frequently trodden: the language indispensable to such an investigation may sound at times unwonted and uncouth; but the end is one with that of those plainer and more familiar illustrations which have taken their place among the acknowledged evidences of religion; and the lesson of the whole, if read aright, will be but to teach us that in mind, no less than in body, we are fearfully and wonderfully made1818 Psalm cxxxix. 14. by Him whose praise both alike declare: that He who “laid the foundations of the earth, and shut up the sea with doors, and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further,” is also He who “hath put wisdom in the inward parts, and hath given understanding to the heart.”1919 Job xxxviii. 4, 8, 11, 36.68
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