« Prev Appendix III. Modern School of Dutch Devines—De… Next »


(Lecture I., page 13.)


Holland has been during the last quarter of a century a soil even more fertile than Germany in the fruits of theological learning and speculation. The critico-historical labours of Kuenen and others are now well known in this country by all interested in such subjects; but comparatively little as yet is known of the school to which I refer in the text (spoken of in their own country as “De Modernen”)—who may be characterised as the extreme left of the theological movement presently so active in the churches and universities of Holland. The leaders of this school are Dr. Hooykaas, one of the compilers of the ‘Bible for Young People,’ and an able young theologian of the name of Van Hamel, who has sustained in the press the chief part in defending and developing the views of the ‘Ethical Theory of Religion.’ I am indebted to an accomplished young clergyman in our own Church, Mr. Menzies of Abernyte, who is well versed both in German and Dutch Theology, for the following statement of the views of these writers, translated and summarised from articles which have appeared on the subject within the last two years in the ‘Theologisch Tijdschrift.’


“Hooykaas204204   Theologisch Tijdschrift, March I875. Dr. I. Hooykaas, “Ter Beschrijving van de Ethische Richting.” starts with saying, ‘God is—He acts’—that is a matter of experience. But suppose we have still to seek Him, in what way are we to arrive at a knowledge of Him? Religion is a fact; but what are the contents of religion? Turning to history, we find that the gods whom men have worshipped began with being material physical powers, but have gradually come to be moral powers. Parsism, Mosaism, Christianity, the New School in Holland, each is a step in this direction. And not only so; but the moral element has been the essence of religion all along. Hence we are in sympathy with Isaiah or Augustine, though our theology is radically different from theirs.

“‘To us God is Holy Love. It is not His power but His love that we worship. To us there is nothing adorable in the Nature-God, the Ruler; we ourselves are superior to all power. To us the Divine is what is holy, noble, exalted—the Moral Ideal, in fact.

“‘The reason why religion thus proceeds from the material to the moral, from the outward power to the spiritual power, is just that the latter is the higher of the two, and that as man grows he becomes fitter to appreciate and to worship it. It is ever coming to us, this Moral Ideal, and we grow capable of answering to its appeals.

“‘The moral power acts. We know that to be good is better than to be bad. This is its action. Only the moral man can judge of this, however. To him who is 210seeking earnestly to be good, the consciousness of the reality of the moral law becomes so strong that he will rather doubt the existence of the sensible than of the moral world. Belief in the reality of moral ideas is the very essence of religion.’

“Hooykaas insists again and again on the immediateness of the knowledge of this power. ‘It is not a conclusion drawn from certain facts; it is the fact itself.’ ‘We know God in so far as He reveals Himself to us. Of His essence, of His existence, apart from that revelation, we know nothing.’ In support of this position, he refers to the unconscious suggestions of a higher life, of sympathy, of enthusiasm for righteousness, of duty, which came to good men. ‘Not we,’ he says, ‘took the first step—the Ideal drew us to itself before we thought of it; we loved God because He first loved us. The Ideal exists; it is not developed out of humanity, but impresses itself on the consciousness of humanity. At each step in the revelation, at each advance in clear perception of the Ideal, we are aware that we are not the producers but the recipients. . . .

“‘Your theory of the world may be anything you choose; that is quite apart from your religion. Ultimately, indeed, your faith will mould your views on various subjects. It will be impossible for you to believe that an evil power created the world, or that the world, with all the achievements and the aspirations of millenniums, is doomed to utter extinction. Faith in a God whom you thus immediately know will also bias you in favour of an intuitive theory of morals. . . . An atheist 211is not a man who denies the existence of God, who rejects any particular conception of what God is, nor even a man who denies the reality of moral distinctions, and asserts that good and evil are alike the will of God, but a man who practically denies the existence and authority of moral powers, and asserts in his actions that there is no such thing as love, that self-interest is the universal and the only rule, that sensual desires have an intrinsic right to be satisfied, that money is the supreme power and lawgiver in human society. The conception of God matters very little; what is important is to have God Himself. There is no religion without God; but there is religion without any conception of God. We point to ourselves as examples of that fact.’

“Dr. Hooykaas then goes on to argue that he has a right to retain the name God and the word religion for this position, although these terms have hitherto borne a totally different significance. God, he asserts, means essentially Higher Power, and more definitely an Invisible Supreme Power, which claims and is worthy of our adoration; and in this sense he can use the old word without any reserve of the Moral Ideal by which good men are visited and the human race drawn upwards. He enters then on a demonstration that this conception of God is the key to a proper understanding of the Jewish prophets and of Jesus. In this we need scarcely follow him, as we are all familiar with an argument which is essentially the same. Dr. Hooykaas’ demonstration differs from Dr. Matthew Arnold’s in this, that the righteous power—Dr. Arnold would say which, Dr. Hooykaas says whom—the 212prophets and Jesus more and more vividly apprehended is with the Dutchman a living, moving power, drawing near to the spirits of those who were fit to know Him.”

The writer who has gone furthest of all in the identification of true religion with morality is Van Hamel,205205   Theologisch Tijdschrift, September 1874. A. G. van Hamel, “Godsdienst zonder metafysica.” who has published in the ‘Theologisch Tijdschrift,’ an essay called “Religion without Metaphysics,” of which the following are the principal points:—

“He starts with the observation that theologians of the new school have been turning more and more away from the metaphysical element of religion, and seeking to deduce the claims and the nature of religion from moral phenomena. Some of us, he says, have followed this road to its very end, and are now minded to detach religion from metaphysics altogether—to consider it to be not a view of the world, but a view of life, while we both describe and preach it as moral idealism. . . .

”Van Hamel, also, goes first of all to history, as our own countryman has done, to show that his religion is the true religion of history—the essence that remains when the accidental forms are stripped off. Religion, he maintains, has been everywhere and always essentially a view of life, and then a view of the world, to which the view of life, whatever it might be, gave rise. Every religion is a philosophy—a theory of the world; but this is not the most important element of it: the root of the matter has always been the view that was taken of life and its phenomena.


“Supernaturalism, in fact, is not religion. It becomes religion only when it is the expression of human needs. Only when the higher world is regarded in its relation to man’s own need, whatever that may be, do those sentiments and dispositions arise which we call religion. Only when the man takes one or another of his ideals as the standard of the history and government of the world, so that it all subserves that ideal, and the gods work to realise it, does his philosophy become more than an idle imagination—does it become religion. And the main element in this religion is not the supernatural theory of the world—that is merely the formal side of it; the main thing is the peculiar conception of life—the peculiar direction of wishes and expectations; these are what confer on a religion its distinctive character. Thus, when the life is little more than material and sensuous, the gods will be mere natural phenomena. As society is developed, and the social instincts gain in power, the gods of the family of the tribe—of the race—appear. Jahveh is, first of all, the reflection of the national sentiment of Israel on its ideal side. As moral life is developed, moral gods appear, or those already in existence receive a more distinctly moral character. As life becomes more complex, this complexity is reproduced in the forms of religion, and we have polytheism. When one tendency becomes predominant, and other needs are thrown into the shade, religion grows monotheistic. Monotheism may also be the reflection of an impulse towards harmony—oneness in life.

“If this be a true account of the nature of religion, then Christianity may properly be called Moral Idealism. 214It is a religion in which neither sensuous life, nor national life, nor social life, nor ecclesiastical life, but purely moral life, is elevated to the ideal power, the highest element which is most worthy of God. Jesus is conscious of a power which carries Him irresistibly forward—is practically absolute—makes Him the champion of all right against all wrong—is ever close to Him, and fills Him with unspeakable happiness. He loves this power—calls it the Father in heaven. . . .

“As long as men are supernaturalists, they instinctively elevate their ideals to the throne of the universe. Imagination refuses nothing that sentiment requires. His god, man has no difficulty in supposing, rules heaven and earth in the interests of his requirements—his ideals. The true explanation of the universe is supplied by his life, or the fortune and future of his nation, or the coming of the kingdom of heaven of which he dreams. Thus, while supernaturalism prevails, the view of life which is the material of religion, is easily converted into a view of the world, with which religion is then identified.

“But take away supernaturalism, not only the older mechanical forms of it, but that notion of a Providence ruling all things in the interests of the good, that is, for the realisation of our ideals, which is as much a form of supernaturalism as the belief in miracles,—take away all idea of a purpose, an end, which things subserve; that is an unscientific notion. It is thought to be the very essence of Christianity—but this is not the case. Christianity is not a theory of the course of affairs at all. Let us acknowledge that nature goes her own way, and cares 215nothing for our wants, and would not be nature at all if she did otherwise.

“Then is religion abolished? By no means. You have still what is the essence of Christianity, though you have lost the form—the view of life, the attitude in the practical world, which Jesus introduced. We have still our moral ideals. These are the only sources from which religion springs, these alone give any religion at the stage in the world’s history its substance and its authority.

“Here our author finds it necessary to define further what is meant by detaching religion from metaphysics, and calling it a view of life and not a view of the world. He does not deny the value of metaphysics in their own place; only he says they have nothing to do with religion, which is based on facts, experiences, and not on theories. When we call religion a view of life, we mean a way of taking life, a direction of the life, not a theory of life. It is a mode of grasping life practically. This can stand on its own feet—it has no need of theories, which, after all, are not the parents of religion but its children—which have been invented to account for a thing that existed before them, and can quite well continue to exist without them. Reasoning can do nothing to increase the reality and authority of the experiences from which religion springs; they are original, and suffice for themselves.

“And if it be asked, How do you know that your ideals on which alone you base your religion are true, are real things, and not merely your own subjective fancies, and if they do not need some support from without before you can place such implicit confidence in them? this 216leads into the question of the basis of morality, and we do not feel called upon to give a solution of it. We do not pretend that our ideals supply us with absolute truth, and for us at our present stage of culture they are absolute. They are to be judged simply by their practical power. They are not immovable—they come to us from the outside, and what we call the highest is for ever changing. What is the highest to-day may to-morrow have yielded to a higher. But the highest while it is with us has an indefeasible claim to our devotion, a claim which reasoning did not give and which reasoning cannot take away. This is not religion in the old sense, he frankly admits. If the essence of religion reside either in supernaturalism or in metaphysics, in the recognition of a real object of worship or in the transcendent character of the universe, then there is no religion here. . . . He asserts, however, that the essence of what has been hitherto called religion is here preserved.”

« Prev Appendix III. Modern School of Dutch Devines—De… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection