|« Prev||Lecture II.||Next »|
KEEP THAT WHICH IS COMMITTED TO THY TRUST, AVOIDING PROFANE AND VAIN BABBLINGS, AND OPPOSITIONS OF SCIENCE FALSELY SO CALLED; WHICH SOME PROFESSING HAVE ERRED CONCERNING THE FAITH.—1 TIMOTHY VI. 20, 21.
A PHILOSOPHY of Religion may be attempted from two opposite points of view, and by two opposite modes of development. It may be conceived either as a Philosophy of the Object of Religion; that is to say, as a scientific exposition of the nature of God; or as a Philosophy of the Subject of Religion; that is to say, as a scientific inquiry into the constitution of the human mind, so far as it receives and deals with religious ideas. The former is that branch of Metaphysics which is commonly known by the name of Rational Theology. Its general aim, in common with all metaphysical inquiries, is to disengage the real from the apparent, the true from the false: its special aim, as a Theology, is to exhibit a true representation of the Nature and Attributes of God, purified from foreign accretions, and displaying the exact features of their Divine Original. The latter is a branch of Psychology, which at its outset at least, contents itself with investigating the phenomena presented to it, leaving their relation to further realities to be determined at a later stage of the inquiry. Its primary concern is with the operations and laws of the human mind; and its special purpose is to ascertain the nature, the origin, and the limits of the religious element 69 in man; postponing, till after that question has been decided, the further inquiry into the absolute nature of God.
As applied to the criticism of Revelation, the first method, supposing its end to be attained, would furnish an immediate and direct criterion by which the claims of any supposed Revelation to a divine origin might be tested; while at the same time it would enable those possessed of it to dispense with the services of any Revelation at all. For on the supposition that we possess an exact idea of any attribute of the Divine Nature, we are at liberty to reject at once any portion of the supposed Revelation which contradicts that idea; and on the supposition that we possess a complete idea of that Nature as a whole, we are at liberty to reject whatever goes beyond it. And as, upon either supposition, the highest praise to which Revelation can aspire is that of coinciding, partially or wholly, with the independent conclusions of Philosophy, it follows that, so far as Philosophy extends, Revelation becomes superfluous.(1) On the other hand, the second method of philosophical inquiry does not profess to furnish a direct criticism of Revelation, but only of the instruments by which Revelation is to be criticized. It looks to the human, not to the divine, and aspires to teach us no more than the limits of our own powers of thought, and the consequent distinction between what we may and what we may not seek to comprehend. And if, upon examination, it should appear that any portion of the contents of Revelation belongs to the latter class of truths, this method will enable us to reconcile with each other the conflicting claims of Reason and Faith, by showing that Reason itself, rightly interpreted, teaches the existence of truths that are above Reason.
Whatever may be the ultimate use of the first of these methods of criticism, it is obvious that the previous question, 70 concerning our right to use it at all, can only be satisfactorily answered by the employment of the second method. The possibility of criticism at all implies that human reason is liable to error: the possibility of a valid criticism implies that the means of distinguishing between its truth and its error may be ascertained by a previous criticism. Let it be granted, for the moment, that a religion whose contents are irreconcilable with human reason is thereby proved not to have come from God, but from man,—still the reason which judges is at least as human as the religion which is judged; and if the human representation of God is erroneous in the latter, how can we assume its infallibility in the former? If we grant for the present the fundamental position of Rationalism, namely, that man by his own reason can attain to a right conception of God, we must at any rate grant also, what every attempt at criticism implies, that he may also attain to a wrong one. We have therefore still to ask by what marks the one is to be distinguished from the other; by what method we are to seek the truth; and how we are to assume ourselves that we have found it. And to answer this question, we need a preliminary examination of the conditions and limits of human thought. Religious criticism is itself an act of thought; and its immediate instruments must, under any circumstances, be thoughts also. We are thus compelled in the first instance to inquire into the origin and value of those thoughts themselves.
A Philosophy which professes to elicit from its own conceptions all the essential portions of religious belief, is bound to justify its profession, by showing that those conceptions themselves are above suspicion. The ideas thus exalted to the supreme criteria of truth must bear on their front unquestionable evidence that they are true and sufficient 71 representations of the Divine Nature, such as may serve all the needs of human thought and human feeling, adequate alike for contemplation and for worship. They must manifest the clearness and distinctness which mark the strong vision of an eye gazing undazzled on the glory of Heaven, not the obscurity and confusion of one that turns away blinded from the glare, and gropes in its own darkness after the fleeting spectrum. The conviction which boasts itself to be superior to all external evidence must carry in its own inward constitution some sure indication of its truth and value.
Such a conviction may be possible in two different ways. It may be the result of a direct intuition of the Divine Nature; or it may be gained by inference from certain attributes of human nature, which, though on a smaller scale, are known to be sufficiently representative of the corresponding properties of the Deity. We may suppose the existence in man of a special faculty of knowledge, of which God is the immediate object,—a kind of religious sense or reason, by which the Divine attributes are apprehended in their own nature:(2) or we may maintain that the attributes of God differ from those of man in degree only, not in kind; and hence that certain mental and moral qualities, of which we are immediately conscious in ourselves, furnish at the same time a true and adequate image of the infinite perfections of God.(3) The first of these suppositions professes to convey a knowledge of God by direct apprehension, in a manner similar to the evidence of the senses: the second professes to convey the same knowledge by a logical process, similar to the demonstrations of science. The former is the method of Mysticism, and of that Rationalism which agrees with Mysticism, in referring the knowledge of divine things to 72 an extraordinary and abnormal process of intuition or thought.(4) The latter is the method of the vulgar Rationalism, which regards the reason of man, in its ordinary and normal operation, as the supreme criterion of religious truth.
On the former supposition, a system of religious philosophy or criticism may be constructed by starting from the divine and reasoning down to the human: on the latter, by starting from the human and reasoning up to the divine. The first commences with a supposed immediate knowledge of God as He is in his absolute nature, and proceeds to exhibit the process by which that nature, acting according to its own laws, will manifest itself in operation, and become known to man. The second commences with an immediate knowledge of the mental and moral attributes of man, and proceeds to exhibit the manner in which those attributes will manifest themselves, when exalted to the degree in which they form part of the nature of God. If, for example, the two systems severally undertake to give a representation of the infinite power and wisdom of God, the former will profess to explain how the nature of the infinite manifests itself in the forms of power and wisdom; while the latter will attempt to show how power and wisdom must manifest themselves when existing in an infinite degree. In their criticisms of Revelation, in like manner, the former will rather take as its standard that absolute and essential nature of God, which must remain unchanged in every manifestation; the latter will judge by reference to those intellectual and moral qualities, which must exist in all their essential features in the divine nature as well as in the human.
Thus, for example, it has been maintained by a modern philosopher, that the absolute nature of God is that of a 73 pure Will, determining itself solely by a moral law, and subject to no affections which can operate as motives. Hence it is inferred that the same law of action must form the rule of God’s manifestation to mankind as a moral Governor; and therefore that no revelation can be of divine origin, which attempts to influence men’s actions by the prospect of reward or punishment.(5) In this mode of reasoning, an abstract conception of the nature of God is made the criterion to determine the mode in which He must reveal Himself to man. On the other hand, we meet with an opposite style of criticism, which reasons somewhat as follows: All the excellences, it contends, of which we are conscious in the creature, must necessarily exist in the same manner, though in a higher degree, in the Creator. God is indeed more wise, more just, more merciful than man; but for that very reason, I-is wisdom and justice and mercy must contain nothing that is incompatible with the corresponding attributes in their human character.(6) Hence, if the certainty of man’s knowledge implies the necessity of the events which he knows, the certainty of God’s omniscience implies a like necessity of all things:(7) if man’s justice requires that he should punish the guilty alone, it is inconsistent with God’s justice to inflict the chastisement of sin upon the innocent:(8) if man’s mercy finds its natural exercise in the free forgiveness of offences, God’s mercy, too, must freely forgive the sins of His creatures.(9) From the same premises it is consistently concluded that no act which would be wrong, if performed by a man upon his own responsibility, can be justified by the plea of a direct command from God.(10) Abraham may not be praised for his readiness to slay his son in obedience to God’s command; for the internal prohibition must always 74be more certain than the external precept.(11) Joshua cannot be warranted in obeying the Divine injunction to exterminate the Canaanites, unless he would be equally warranted in destroying them of his own accord.(12) And, as the issuing of such commands is contrary to the moral nature of God, therefore the Book which represents them as so issued is convicted of falsehood, and cannot be regarded as a Divine Revelation.(13) In this mode of reasoning, the moral or intellectual nature of man is made the rule to determine what ought to be the revealed attributes of God, and in what manner they must be exercised.
Within certain limits, both these arguments may have their value; but each is chiefly useful as a check upon the exclusive authority of the other. The philosophy which reasons downwards from the infinite, is but an exaggeration of the true conviction that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways:2020 Isaiah iv. 8. the philosophy which reasons upwards from the human, bears witness, even in its perversion, to the unextinguishable consciousness, that man, however fallen, was created in the image of God.2121 Genesis i. 27. But this admission tends rather to weaken than to strengthen the claims of either to be received as the supreme criterion of religious truth. The criticisms of rationalism exhibit the weakness as well as the strength of reason; for the representations which it rejects, as dishonoring to God, are, on its own showing, the product of human thought, no less than the principle by which they are judged and condemned. If the human mind has passed through successive stages of religious cultivation, from the grovelling superstition of the savage to the intellectual elevation of the critic of all possible revelations, who shall assure the critic that the level on which he now 75 stands is the last and highest that can be attained? If reason is to be the last court of appeal in religious questions, it must find some better proof of its own infallibility than is to be found in its own progressive enlightenment. Its preëminence must be shown, not by successive approximations to the truth, but by the possession of the truth itself. Of the limits within which reason may be legitimately employed, I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. At present, I am concerned only with its pretensions to such a knowledge of the Divine Nature, as can constitute the foundation of a Rational Theology.
There are three terms, familiar as household words, in the vocabulary of Philosophy, which must be taken into account in every system of Metaphysical Theology. To conceive the Deity as He is, we must conceive Him as First Cause, as Absolute, and as Infinite. By the First Cause, is meant that which produces all things, and is itself produced of none. By the Absolute, is meant that which exists in and by itself, having no necessary relation to any other Being.(14) By the Infinite, is meant that which is free from all possible limitation; that than which a greater is inconceivable; and which, consequently, can receive no additional attribute or mode of existence, which it had not from all eternity.
The Infinite, as contemplated by this philosophy, cannot be regarded as consisting of a limited number of attributes, each unlimited in its kind. It cannot be conceived, for example, after the analogy of a line, infinite in length, but not in breadth; or of a surface, infinite in two dimensions of space, but bounded in the third; or of an intelligent being, possessing some one or more modes of consciousness in an infinite degree, but devoid of others. Even if it be granted, which is not the case, that such a 76 partial infinite may without contradiction be conceived, still it will have a relative infinity only, and be altogether incompatible with the idea of the Absolute.(15) The line limited in breadth is thereby necessarily related to the space that limits it: the intelligence endowed with a limited number of attributes, coëxists with others which are thereby related to it, as cognate or opposite modes of consciousness.(16) The metaphysical representation of the Deity, as absolute and infinite, must necessarily, as tihe profoundest metaphysicians have acknowledged, amount to nothing less than the sum of all reality.(17) “What kind of an Absolute Being is that,” says Hegel, “which does not contain in itself all that is actual, even evil included?”(18) We may repudiate the conclusion with indignation; but the reasoning is unassailable. If the Absolute and Infinite is an object of human conception at all, this, and none other, is the conception required. That which is conceived as absolute and infinite must be conceived as containing within itself the sum, not only of all actual, but of all possible, modes of being. For if any actual mode can be denied of it, it is related to that mode, and limited by it;(19) and if any possible mode can be denied of it, it is capable of becoming more than it now is, and such a capability is a limitation. Indeed, it is obvious that the entire distinction between the possible and the actual can have no existence as regards the absolutely infinite; for an unrealized possibility is necessarily a relation and a limit. The scholastic saying, Deus est actus purus,(20) ridiculed as it has been by modern critics, is in truth but the expression, in technical language, of the almost unanimous voice of philosophy, both in earlier and later times.(21)
But these three conceptions, the Cause, the Absolute, 77 the Infinite, all equally indispensable, do they not imply contradiction to each other, when viewed in conjunction, as attributes of one and the same Being? A Cause cannot, as such, be absolute: the Absolute cannot, as such, be a cause. The cause, as such, exists only in relation to its effect: the cause is a cause of the effect; the effect is an effect of the cause. On the other hand, the conception of the Absolute implies a possible existence out of all relation.(22) We attempt to escape from this apparent contradiction, by introducing the idea of succession in time. The Absolute exists first by itself, and afterwards becomes a Cause. But here we are checked by the third conception, that of the Infinite. How can the Infinite become that which it was not from the first? If Causation is a possible mode of existence, that which exists without causing is not infinite; that which becomes a cause has passed beyond its former limits. Creation at any particular moment of time being thus inconceivable, the philosopher is reduced to the alternative of Pantheism, which pronounces the effect to be mere appearance, and merges all real existence in the cause.(23) The validity of this alternative will be examined presently.
Meanwhile, to return for a moment to the supposition of a true causation. Supposing the Absolute to become a cause, it will follow that it operates by means of free will and consciousness. For a necessary cause cannot be conceived as absolute and infinite. If necessitated by something beyond itself, it is thereby limited by a superior power; and if necessitated by itself, it has in its own nature a necessary relation to its effect. The act of causation must, therefore, be voluntary; and volition is only possible in a conscious being. But consciousness, again, is only conceivable as a relation. There must be a conscrious 78 subject, and an object of which he is conscious. The subject is a subject to the object; the object is an object to the subject; and neither can exist by itself as the absolute. This difficulty, again, may be for the moment evaded, by distinguishing between the absolute as related to another, and the absolute as related to itself. The Absolute, it may be said, may possibly be conscious, provided it is only conscious of itself.(24) But this alternative is, in ultimate analysis, no less self-destructive than the other. For the object of consciousness, whether a mode of the subject’s existence or not, is either created in and by the act of consciousness, or has an existence independent of it. In the former case, the object depends upon the subject, and the subject alone is the true absolute. In the latter case, the subject depends upon the object, and the object alone is the true absolute. Or, if we attempt a third hypothesis, and maintain that each exists independently of the other, we have no absolute at all, but only a pair of relatives; for coexistence, whether in consciousness or not, is itself a relation.(25)
The corollary from this reasoning is obvious. Not only is the Absolute, as conceived, incapable of a necessary relation to anything else; but it is also incapable of containing, by the constitution of its own nature, an essential relation within itself; as a whole, for instance, composed of parts, or as a substance consisting of attributes, or as a conscious subject in antithesis to an object.(26) For if there is in the absolute any principle of unity, distinct from the mere accumulation of parts or attributes, this principle alone is the true absolute. If, on the other hand, there is no such principle, then there is no absolute at all, but only a plurality of relatives.(27) The almost unanimous voice of philosophy, in pronouncing that the absolute 79 is both one and simple, must be accepted as the voice of reason also, so far as reason has any voice in the matter.(28) But this absolute unity, as indifferent and containing no attributes, can neither be distinguished from the multiplicity of finite beings by any characteristic feature, nor be identified with them in their multiplicity.(29) Thus we are landed in an inextricable dilemma. The Absolute cannot be conceived as conscious, neither can it be conceived as unconscious: it cannot be conceived as complex, neither can it be conceived as simple: it cannot be conceived by difference, neither can it be conceived by the absence of difference: it cannot be identified with the universe, neither can it be distinguished from it. The One and the Many, regarded as the beginning of existence, are thus alike incomprehensible.
The fundamental conceptions of Rational Theology being thus self-destructive, we may naturally expect to find the same antagonism manifested in their special applications. These naturally inherit the infirmities of the principle from which they spring. If an absolute and infinite consciousness is a conception which contradicts itself, we need not wonder if its several modifications mutually exclude each other. A mental attribute, to be conceived as infinite, must be in actual exercise on every possible object: otherwise it is potential only with regard to those on which it is not exercised; and an unrealized potentiality is a limitation. Hence every infinite mode of consciousness must be regarded as extending over the field of every other; and their common action involves a perpetual antagonism. How, for example, can Infinite Power be able to do all things, and yet Infinite Goodness be unable to do evil? How can infinite Justice exact the utmost penalty for every sin, and yet Infinite Mercy pardon the 80 sinner? How can Infinite Wisdom know all that is to come, and yet Infinite Freedom be at liberty to do or to forbear?(30) How is the existence of Evil compatible with that of an infinitely perfect Being; for if he wills it, he is not infinitely good; and if he wills it not, his will is thwarted and his sphere of action limited? Here, again, the Pantheist is ready with his solution. There is in reality no such thing as evil: there is no such thing as punishment: there is no real relation between God and man at all. God is all that really exists: He does, by the necessity of His nature, all that is done: all acts are equally necessary and equally divine: all diversity is but a distorted representation of unity: all evil is but a delusive appearance of good.(31) Unfortunately, the Pantheist does not tell us whence all this delusion derives its seeming existence.
Let us however suppose for an instant that these difficulties are surmounted, and the existence of the Absolute securely established on the testimony of reason. Still we have not succeeded in reconciling this idea with that of a Cause: we have done nothing towards explaining how the absolute can give rise to the relative, the infinite to the finite. If the condition of causal activity is a higher state than that of quiescence, the absolute, whether acting voluntarily or involuntarily, has passed from a condition of comparative imperfection to one of comparative perfection; and therefore was not originally perfect. If the state of activity is an inferior state to that of quiescence, the Absolute, in becoming a cause, has lost its original perfection.(32) There remains only the supposition that the two states are equal, and the act of creation one of complete indifference. But this supposition annihilates the unity, of the absolute, or it annihilates itself. If the act of 81 creation is real, and yet indifferent, we must admit the possibility of two conceptions of the absolute, the one as productive, the other as non-productive. If the act is not real, the supposition itself vanishes, and we are thrown once more on the alternative of Pantheism.
Again, how can the Relative be conceived as coming into being? If it is a distinct reality from the absolute, it must be conceived as passing from non-existence into existence. But to conceive an object as non-existent, is again a self-contradiction; for that which is conceived exists, as an object of thought, in and by that conception. We may abstain from thinking of an object at all; but, if we think of it, we cannot but think of it as existing. It is possible at one time not to think of an object at all, and at another to think of it as already in being; but to think of it in the act of becoming, in the progress from not being into being, is to think that which, in the very thought, annihilates itself. Here again the Pantheistic hypothesis seems forced upon us. We can think of creation only as a change in the condition of that which already exists; and thus the creature is conceivable only as a phenomenal mode of the being of the Creator.(33)
The whole of this web of contradictions (and it might be extended, if necessary, to a far greater length) is woven from one original warp and woof;—namely, the impossibility of conceiving the coexistence of the infinite and the finite, and the cognate impossibility of conceiving a first commencement of phenomena, or the absolute giving birth to the relative. The laws of thought appear to admit of no possible escape from the meshes in which thought is entangled, save by destroying one or the other of the cords of which they are composed. Pantheism or Atheism are 82 thus the alternatives offered to us, according as we prefer to save the infinite by the sacrifice of the finite, or to maintain the finite by denying the existence of the infinite. Pantheism thus presents itself, as to all appearance the only logical conclusion, if we believe in the possibility of a Philosophy of the Infinite. But Pantheism, if it avoids self-contradiction in the course of its reasonings, does so only by an act of suicide at the outset. It escapes from some of the minor incongruities of thought, only by the annihilation of thought and thinker alike. It is saved from the necessity of demonstrating its own falsehood, by abolishing the only conditions under which truth and falsehood can be distinguished from each other. The only conception which I can frame of substantive existence at all, as distinguished from the transient accidents which are merely modes of the being of something else, is derived from the immediate knowledge of my own personal unity, amidst the various affections which form the successive modes of my consciousness. The Pantheist tells me that this knowledge is a delusion; that I am no substance, but a mode of the absolute substance, even as my thoughts and passions are modes of me; and that in order to attain to a true philosophy of being, I must begin by denying my own being. And for what purpose is this act of self-destruction needed? In order to preserve inviolate certain philosophical conclusions, which I, the non-existent thinker, have drawn by virtue of my non-existent powers of thought. But if my personal existence, the great primary fact of all consciousness, is a delusion, what claim have the reasonings of the Pantheist himself to be considered as anything better than a part of the universal falsehood? If I am mistaken in supposing myself to have a substantial existence at all, why is that existence more true 83 when it is presented to me under the particular form of apprehending and accepting the arguments of the pantheistic philosophy? Nay, how do I know that there is any argument at all? For if my consciousness is mistaken in testifying to the fact of my own existence, it may surely be no less mistaken in testifying to my apparent apprehension of an apparent reasoning. Nay, the very arguments which appear to prove the Pantheist’s conclusion to be true, may in reality, for aught I know, prove it to be false. Or rather, no Pantheist, if he is consistent with himself, can admit the existence of a distinction between truth and falsehood at all. For if God alone exists, in whatever way that existence may be explained, He alone is the immediate cause of all that takes place. I-le thinks all that is thought, He does all that is done. There can be no difference between truth and falsehood; for God is the only thinker; and all thoughts are equally necessary and equally divine. There can be no difference between right and wrong; for God is the only agent; and all acts are equally necessary and equally divine.(34) How error and evil, even in appearance, are possible,—how the finite and the relative can appear to exist, even as a delusion,—is a problem which no system of Pantheism has made the slightest approach towards solving.(35)
Pantheism thus failing us, the last resource of Rationalism is to take refuge in that which, with reference to the highest idea of God, is speculative Atheism, and to deny that the Infinite exists at all.(36) And it must be admitted that, so long as we confine ourselves to one side only of the problem, that of the inconceivability of the Infinite, this is the only position logically tenable by those who would make man’s power of thought the exact measure of his duty of belief. For the infinite, as inconceivable, is 84 necessarily shown to be non-existent; unless we renounce the claim of reason to supreme authority in matters of faith, by admitting that it is our duty to believe what we are altogether unable to comprehend. But the logical advantage of the atheistic alternative vanishes, as soon as we view the question from the other side, and endeavor positively to represent in thought the sum total of existence as a limited quantity. A limit is itself a relation; and to conceive a limit as such, is virtually to acknowledge the existence of a correlative on the other side of it.(37) By a law of thought, the significance of which has perhaps not yet been fully investigated, it is impossible to conceive a finite object of any kind, without conceiving it as one out of many,—as related to other objects, coexistent and antecedent. A first moment of time, a first unit of space, a definite sum of all existence, are thus as inconceivable as the opposite suppositions of an infinity of each.(38) While it is impossible to represent in thought any object, except as finite, it is equally impossible to represent any finite object, or any aggregate of finite objects, as exhausting the universe of being. Thus the hypothesis which would annihilate the Infinite is itself shattered to pieces against the rock of the Absolute; and we are involved in the self-contradictory assumption of a limited universe, which yet can neither contain a limit in itself, nor be limited by anything beyond itself. For if it contains a limit in itself, it is both limiting and limited, both beyond the limit, and within it; and if it is limited by anything else, it is not the universe.(39)
To sum up briefly this portion of my argument. The conception of the Absolute and Infinite, from whatever side we view it, appears encompassed with contradictions. There is a contradiction in supposing such an object to 85 exist, whether alone or in conjunction with others; and there is a contradiction in supposing it not to exist. There is a contradiction in conceiving it as one; and there is a contradiction in conceiving it as many. There is a contradiction in conceiving it as personal; and there is a contradiction in conceiving it as impersonal. It cannot without contradiction be represented as active; nor, without equal contradiction, be represented as inactive. It cannot be conceived as the sum of all existence; nor yet can it be conceived as a part only of that sum. A contradiction thus thoroughgoing, while it sufficiently shows the impotence of human reason as an a priori judge of all truth, yet is not in itself inconsistent with any form of religious belief. For it tells with equal force against all belief and all unbelief, and therefore necessitates the conclusion that belief cannot be determined solely by reason. No conclusion can be drawn from it in favor of universal skepticism; first, because universal skepticism equally destroys itself; and secondly, because the contradictions thus detected belong not to the use of reason in general, but only to its exercise on one particular object of thought. It may teach us that it is our duty, in some instances, to believe that which we cannot conceive; but it does not require us to disbelieve anything which we are capable of conceiving.
What we have hitherto been examining, be it remembered, is not the nature of the Absolute in itself, but only our own conception of that nature. The distortions of the image reflected may arise only from the inequalities of the mirror reflecting it. And this consideration leads us naturally back to the second of the two methods of religious philosophy which were mentioned at the beginning of the present Lecture. If the attempt to grasp the absolute nature of the Divine Object of religious thought 86 thus fails us on every side, we have no resource but to recommence our inquiry by the opposite process, that of investigating the nature of the human Subject. Such an investigation will not, indeed, solve the contradictions which our previous attempt has elicited; but it may serve to show us why they are insoluble. If it cannot satisfy to the full the demands of reason, it may at least enable us to lay a reasonable foundation for the rightful claims of belief. If, from an examination of the laws and limits of human consciousness, we can show that thought is not, and cannot be, the measure of existence; if it can be shown that the contradictions which arise in the attempt to conceive the infinite, have their origin, not in the nature of that which we would conceive, but in the constitution of the mind conceiving; that they are such as must necessarily accompany every form of religion, and every renunciation of religion; we may thus prepare the way for a recognition of the separate provinces of Reason and Faith. This task I shall endeavor to accomplish in my next Lecture. Meanwhile, I would add but a few words, to point out the practical lesson to be drawn from our previous inquiry. It is this: that so far is human reason from being able to construct a scientific Theology, independent of and superior to Revelation, that it cannot even read the alphabet out of which that Theology must be framed. It has not been without much hesitation that I have ventured to address you in language seldom heard in this place,—to transport to the preacher’s pulpit the vocabulary of metaphysical speculation. But it was only by such a course that I could hope to bring the antagonist principles of true and false religious philosophy face to face with each other. It needs but a slight acquaintance with the history of opinions, to show how intimately, in various 87 ages, the current forms of religious belief or unbelief have been connected with the prevailing systems of speculative philosophy. It was in no small degree because the philosophy of Kant identified religion with morality, and maintained that the supernatural and the historical were not necessary to belief;(40) that Paulus explained away the miracles of Christ, as misrepresentations of natural events;(41) and Wegscheider claimed for the moral reason supreme authority in the interpretation of Scripture;(42) and Röhr promulgated a new Creed, from which all the facts of Christianity are rejected, to make way for ethical precepts.(43) It was in like manner because the philosophy of Hegel was felt to be incompatible with the belief in a personal God, and a personal Christ, and a supernatural revelation;(44) that Vatke rejected the Old Testament history, as irreconcilable with the philosophical law of religious development;(45) and Strauss endeavored by minute cavils to invalidate the Gospel narrative, in order to make way for the theory of an ideal Christ, manifested in the whole human race;(46) and Feuerbach maintained that the Supreme Being is but humanity deified, and that the belief in a superhuman God is contradictory in itself, and pernicious in its consequences.(47) And if, by wandering for a little while in the tangled mazes of metaphysical speculation, we can test the worth of the substitute which this philosophy offers us in the place of the faith which it rejects; if we can show how little such a substitute can satisfy even the intellect of man (to the heart it does not pretend to appeal), the inquiry may do some service, slight and indirect though it be, to the cause of Christian Truth, by suggesting to the wavering disciple, ere he quits the Master with whom he has hitherto walked, the pregnant question of the 88 Apostle, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”2222 St. John vi. 68. When Philosophy succeeds in exhibiting in a clear and consistent form the Infinite Being of God; when her opposing schools are agreed among themselves as to the manner in which a knowledge of the Infinite takes place, or the marks by which it is to be discerned when known; then, and not till then, may she claim to speak as one having authority in controversies of Faith. But while she speaks with stammering lips, and a double tongue; while she gropes her way in darkness, and stumbles at every step; while she has nothing to offer us but the alternative of principles which abjure consciousness, or a consciousness which contradicts itself, we may well pause before we appeal to her decisions as the gauge and measure of religious truth.
In one respect, indeed, I have perhaps departed from the customary language of the pulpit, to a greater extent than was absolutely necessary;—namely, in dealing with the ideas common to Theology and Metaphysics in the terms of the latter, rather than in those of the former. But there is a line of argument, in which the vague generalities of the Absolute and the Infinite may be more reverently and appropriately employed than the sacred names and titles of God. For we almost instinctively shrink back from the recklessness which thrusts forward, on every occasion, the holiest names and things, to be tossed to and fro, and trampled under foot, in the excitement of controversy. We feel that the name of Him whom we worship may not lightly be held up as a riddle for prying curiosity to puzzle over: we feel that the Divine Personality of our Father in Heaven is not a thing to be pitted in the arena of disputation, against the lifeless abstractions and sophistical word-jugglings of Pantheism. 89 We feel that, though God is indeed, in His incomprehensible Essence, absolute and infinite, it is not as the Absolute and Infinite that He appeals to the love and the fear and the reverence of His creatures. We feel that the life of religion lies in the human relations in which God reveals Himself to man, not in the divine perfection which those relations veil and modify, though without wholly concealing. We feel that the God to whom we pray, and in whom we trust, is not so much the God eternal and infinite, without body, parts, or passions (though we acknowledge that He is all these), as the God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil.”2323 Joel ii. 13. (48) Those who have observed the prevailing character of certain schools of religious thought, in that country which, more than any other, has made Religion speak the language of Metaphysics; those who have observed how often, in modern literature, both at home and abroad, the most sacred. names are played with, in familiar, almost in contemptuous intimacy, will need no other proof to convince them that we cannot attach too much importance to the duty of separating, as far as it can be effected, the language of prayer and praise from the definitions and distinctions of philosophy.
The metaphysical difficulties which have been exhibited in the course of this Lecture almost suggest of themselves the manner in which they should be treated. We must begin with that which is within us, not with that which is above us; with the philosophy of Man, not with that of God. Instead of asking, what are the facts and laws in the constitution of the universe, or in the Divine Nature, by virtue of which certain conceptions present certain 90 anomalies to the human mind, we should rather ask, what are the facts and laws in the constitution of the human mind, by virtue of which it finds itself involved in contradictions, whenever it ventures on certain courses of speculation. Philosophy, as well as Scripture, rightly employed, will teach a lesson of humility to its disciple; exhibiting, as it does, the spectacle of a creature of finite intuitions, surrounded by partial indications of the Unlimited; of finite conceptions, in the midst of partial manifestations of the Incomprehensible. Questioned in this spirit, the voice of Philosophy will be but an echo of the inspired language of the Psalmist: “Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high; I cannot attain unto it.”2424 Psalm cxxxix. 5, 6.91
|« Prev||Lecture II.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version