“Jesus Christ is the centre of all, and the goal to which all tends.”—PASCAL.
“If we carry back the antagonisms of the present to their ultimate principle, we are obliged to confess that it is of a religious kind. The way in which a man thinks of God and the world, and their relation to one another, is decisive for the whole tendency of his thought, and even in the questions of the purely natural life.”—Luthardt.
“The Christian truth, with the certifying of which we have to do, is essentially only one, compact in itself, vitally interconnected, as such at the same time organic,—and it is therefore not possible one should possess and retain a portion of the same, while yet not possessing, or rejecting, the other portions. On the contrary, the member or portion of the truth, which it had been thought to appropriate or maintain alone, would by this isolating cease to be that which it was or is in itself; it would become an empty form or husk, from which the life, the Christian reality, has escaped.”—F. H. R. Frank.
“In no case can true Reason and a right Faith oppose each other.”—Coleridge.
I Might briefly define the object of the present Lectures by saying that they aim at the exhibition, and, as far as possible within the limits assigned me, at the rational vindication, of what I have called in the title, “The Christian View of the World.” This expression, however, is itself one which calls for definition and explanation, and I proceed, in the first place, to give the explanation that is needed.
The Idea of the “Weltanschauung.”
A reader of the higher class of works in German theology—especially those that deal with the philosophy of religion—cannot fail to be struck with the constant recurrence of a word for which he finds it difficult to get a precise equivalent in English. It is the word “Weltanschauung,” sometimes interchanged with another compound of the same signification, “Weltansicht.” Both words mean literally “view of the world,” but whereas the phrase in English is limited by associations which connect it predominatingly with physical nature, in German the word is not thus limited, but has almost the force of a technical term, denoting the widest view which the mind can take of things in the effort to grasp them together as a whole from the standpoint of some particular philosophy or theology. To speak, therefore, of a “Christian view of the world” implies that Christianity also has its highest point of view, and its view of life connected therewith, and that this, when developed, constitutes an ordered whole.
To some the subject which I have thus chosen may seem unduly wide and vague. I can only reply that I have deliberately chosen it for this very reason, that it enables me to deal with Christianity in its entirety or as a system, instead of dealing with particular aspects or doctrines of it. Both methods have their advantages; but no one I think, whose eyes are open to the signs of the times, can fail to perceive that if Christianity is to be effectually defended from the attacks made upon it, it is the comprehensive method which is rapidly becoming the more urgent. The opposition which Christianity has to encounter is no longer confined to special doctrines or to points of supposed conflict with the natural sciences,—for example, the relations of Genesis and geology,—but extends to the whole manner of conceiving of the world, and of man’s place in it, the manner of conceiving of the entire system of things, natural and moral, of which we form a part. It is no longer an opposition of detail, but of principle. This circumstance necessitates an equal extension of the line of the defence. It is the Christian view of things in general which is attacked, and it is by an exposition and vindication of the Christian view of things as a whole that the attack can most successfully be met.
Everything here, of course, depends on the view we take of Christianity itself. The view indicated in the title is that which has its centre in the Divine and human Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It implies the true Divinity as well as the true humanity of the Christian Redeemer. This is a view of Christianity, I know, which I am not at liberty to take for granted, but must be prepared in due course to vindicate. I shall not shrink from the task which this imposes on me, but would only at present point out that, for him who does accept it, a very definite view of things emerges. He who with his whole heart believes in Jesus as the Son of God is thereby committed to much else besides. He is committed to a view of God, to a view of man, to a view of sin, to a view of Redemption, to a view of the purpose of God in creation and history, to a view of human destiny, found only in Christianity. This forms a “Weltanschauung,” or “Christian view of the world,” which stands in marked contrast within theories wrought out from a purely philosophical or scientific standpoint.
The idea of the “Weltanschauung” may be said to have entered prominently into modern thought through the influence of Kant, who derives what he calls the “Weltbegriff” from the second of his Ideas of Pure Reason to which is assigned the function of the systematic connection of all our experiences into a unity of a world-whole (Weltganz). But the thing itself is as old as the dawn of reflection, and is found in a cruder or more advanced form in every religion and philosophy with any pretensions to a historical character. The simplest form in which we meet with it is in the rude, tentative efforts at a general explanation of things in the cosmogonies and theogonies of most ancient religions, the mythological character of which need not blind us to the rational motive which operates in them. With the growth of philosophy, a new type of world-view is developed—that which attempts to explain the universe as a system by the help of some general principle or principles (water, air, number, etc.), accompanied by the use of terms which imply the conception of an All or Whole of things (τὰ πάντα, κόσμος—attributed to the Pythagoreans—mundus, universum, etc.) An example from ancient thought may be given from Lucretius, who, in his famous poem, “De Rerum Natura,” proposes “to discourse of the most high system of heaven and the gods, and to open up the first-beginnings of things, out of which nature gives birth to all things and increase and nourishment, and into which nature likewise resolves them back after their destruction.” The outlines of his system are well known. By the aid of certain first principles atoms and the void and of certain assumed laws of motion and development, he seeks to account for the existing universe, and constructs for himself a theory on the lines of Epicurus which he thinks satisfies his intellectual necessities. This is his Weltanschauung—the progeny of which is seen in the materialistic systems of the present day. A modern example may be taken from the philosophy of Comte, which, theoretically one of pure phenomenalism, only the more strikingly illustrates the necessity which thought is under to attempting some form a synthesis of its experience. Comte’s standpoint is that of despair of absolute knowledge. Yet he recognises the tendency in the mind which prompts it to organise its knowledge, and thinks it possible to construct a scheme of existence which shall give practical unity to life—imagination eking out the deficiencies of the intellect. In the words of a recent interpreter, “Beneath and beyond all the details in our ideas of things, there is a certain esprit d’ensemble, a general conception of the world without and the world within, in which these details gather to a head.” It would not be easy to get a better description of what is meant by a “Weltanschauung” than in these words. The centre of unity in this new conception of the universe is Man. Knowledge is to be organised solely with reference to its bearings on the well-being and progress of Humanity. A religion even is provided for the satisfaction of the emotional and imaginative wants of man in the worship of the same abstraction—Humanity, which is to be viewed with affection and gratitude as a beneficent providence interposed between man and the hard pressure of his outward conditions. In a moral respect the individual is to find his all-comprehensive end in the “service of Humanity.” Thus, again, we have a “Weltanschauung” in which knowledge and action are knit up together, and organised into a single view of life.
The causes which lead to the formation of “Weltanschauungen,” that is, of general theories of the universe, explanatory of what it is, how it has come to be what it is, and whither it tends, lie deep in the constitution of human nature. They are twofold—speculative and practical, corresponding to the twofold aspect of human nature as thinking and active. On the theoretical side, the mind seeks unity in its representations. It is not content with fragmentary knowledge, but tends constantly to rise from facts to laws, from laws to higher laws, from these to the highest generalisations possible. Ultimately it abuts on questions of origin, purpose, and destiny, which as questions set by reason to itself, it cannot, from its very nature refuse at least to attempt to answer. Even to prove that an answer to them is impossible, it is found necessary to discuss them, and it will be strange if, in the course of the discussion, the discovery is not made, that underneath the profession of nescience a positive theory of some kind after all lurks. But there is likewise a practical motive urging to the consideration of these well-worn questions of the why, whence, and whither? Looking out on the universe, men cannot but desire to know their place in the system of things of which they form a part, if only that they may know how rightly to determine themselves thereto Is the constitution of things good or evil? By what ultimate principles ought man to be guided in the framing and ordering of his life? What is the true end of existence? What rational justification does the nature of things afford for the higher sentiments of duty and religion? If it be the case, as the Agnostic affirms, that light absolutely fails us on questions of origin, cause, and end, what conception of life remains? Or, assuming that no higher origin for life and mind can be postulated than matter and force what revision is necessary of current conceptions of private morality and social duty?
It is a singular circumstance that, with all the distaste of the age for metaphysics, the tendency to the formation of world-systems, or general theories of the universe, was never more powerful than at the present day. One cause of this, no doubt, is the feeling which modern science itself has done so much to engender, of the unity which pervades all orders of existence. The naive Polytheism of pagan times, when every hill and fountain was supposed to have its special divinity, is no longer possible with modern notions of the coherence of the universe. Everywhere the minds of men are opening to the conception that, whatever else the universe is, it is one—one set of laws holds the whole together—one order reigns through all. Everywhere, accordingly, we see a straining after a universal point of view—a grouping and grasping of things together in their unity. The philosophy of Mr. Spencer, for example, is as truly an attempt at the unification of all knowledge as the philosophy of a Hegel; the evolutionist is as confident of being able to embrace all that is, or ever has been, or will be—all existing phenomena of nature, history, or mind—in the range of a few ultimate formulas, as if he had already seen how the task was to be accomplished; the Comtist urges to an imaginative in default of a real and objective synthesis, and rears on this basis at once a social theory and religion. The mind, grows bolder with the advance of knowledge, and hopes, if not to reach a final solution of the ultimate mystery of existence, at least to bring thoroughly under its dominion the sphere of the knowable.”
What now, it may be asked, has Christianity to do with theories, and questions, and speculations of this sort? As a doctrine of salvation, perhaps, not much, but in its logical presuppositions and consequences a great deal indeed. Christianity, it is granted, is not a scientific system, though, if its views of the world be true, it must be reconcilable with all that is certain and established in the results of science. It is not a philosophy, though, if it be valid, its fundamental assumptions will be found to be in harmony with the conclusions at which sound reason, attacking its own problems, independently arrives. It is a religion, historical in its origin, and claiming to rest on Divine Revelation. But though Christianity is neither a scientific system, nor a philosophy, it has yet a world-view of its own, to which it stands committed, alike by its fundamental postulate of a personal, holy, self-revealing God, and by its content as a religion of Redemption which, therefore, necessarily brings it into comparison with the world-views already referred to. It has as every religions should and must have, its own peculiar interpretation to give of the facts of existence; its own way of look in at, and accounting for, the existing natural and moral order; its own idea of a world—aim, and of that “one far-off Divine event,” to which, through slow and painful travail, “the whole creation moves.” As thus binding together the natural and moral worlds in their highest unity, through reference to their ultimate principle, God it involves a “Weltanschauung.”
It need not further be denied that between this view of the world involved in Christianity, and what is sometimes termed “the modern view of the world” there exists a deep and radical antagonism. This so called “modern view of the world,” indeed, and it is important to observe it, is strictly speaking, not one view, but many view, a group of views—most of them as exclusive of one another as they together are of Christianity. The phrase, nevertheless, does point to a homogeneity of these, various systems to a bond of unity which runs through them all and holds them together in spite of their many differences. This common feature is their thoroughgoing opposition to the supernatural,—at least of the specifically miraculous, their refusal to recognise anything in nature, life, or history, outside the lines of natural development. Between such a view of the world and Christianity, it is perfectly correct to say that there can be no kindredship. Those who think otherwise speculative Theists, e.g., like Pfleiderer can only make good their contention by fundamentally altering the idea of Christianity it self—robbing it also of its miraculous essence and accompaniments. Whether this is tenable we shall consider afterwards. Meanwhile it is to be noted that this at least is not the Christianity of the New Testament. It may be an improved and purified form of Christianity, but it is not the Christianity of Christ and His apostles. Even if, with the newer criticism, we distinguish between the theology of Christ and that of His apostles—between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John—between the earlier form of the synoptic tradition and supposed later embellishments—it is still not to be disputed that, in the simplest view we can take of it, Jesus held and acted on a view of things totally different from the rationalistic conception; while for him who accepts the view of Christianity indicated in the title of these Lectures, it has already been pointed out that a view of things emerges with which the denial of the supernatural is wholly incompatible.
The position here taken, that the question at issue between the opponents and defenders of the Christian view of the world at bottom the question of the supernatural, needs to be guarded against a not uncommon misconception. A good deal of controversy has recently taken place in regard to certain statements of Professor Max Müller, as to whether “miracles” are essential to Christianity. But the issue we have to face is totally misconceived when it is turned into a question of belief in this or that particular miracle—or of miracles in general—regarded as mere external appendages to Christianity. The question is not about isolated “miracles,” but about the whole conception of Christianity—what it is, and whether the supernatural does not enter into the very essence of it? It is the general question of a supernatural or non-supernatural conception of the universe. Is there a supernatural Being—God? Is there a supernatural government of the world? Is there a supernatural relation of God and man, so that God and man may have communion with one another? Is there a supernatural Revelation? Has that Revelation culminated in a supernatural Person—Christ? Is there a supernatural work in the souls of men? Is there a supernatural Redemption? Is there a supernatural hereafter? It is these larger questions that have to be settled first, and then the question of particular miracles will fall into its proper place. Neander has given admirable expression to the conception of Christianity which is really at stake, in the following words in the commencement of his History of the Church—“Now we look upon Christianity not as a power that has sprung up out of the hidden depths of man s nature, but as one that descended from above, when heaven opened itself anew to man’s long alienated race; a power which, as both in its origin and its essence it is exalted above all that human nature can create out of its own resources, was designed to impart to that nature a new life, and to change it in its inmost principles. The prime source of this power is He whose power exhibits to us the manifestation of it—Jesus of Nazareth—the Redeemer of mankind when estranged from God by sin. In the devotion of faith in Him, and the appropriation of the truth which He revealed, consists the essence of Christianity and of that fellowship of the Divine life resulting from it, which we designate by the name of the Church.” It is this conception of Christianity we have to come to an understanding with, before the question of particular miracles can profitably be discussed.
While, from the nature of the case this side of opposition of the Christian view of the world to certain “modern” conceptions must necessarily receive prominence I ought, on the other hand, to remark that it is far from my intention to represent the relation of Christianity to these opposing systems as one of mere negation. This would be to overlook the fact, which cannot be too carefully borne in mind, that no theory which has obtained wide currency, and held powerful sway over the minds of men, is ever wholly false; that, on the contrary, it derives what strength it has from some side or aspect of truth which it embodies, and for which it is in Providence a witness against the suppression or denial of it in some countertheory, or in the general doctrine of the age. No duty is more imperative on the Christian teacher than that of showing that instead of Christianity being simply one theory among the rest, it is really the higher truth which is the synthesis and completion of all the other, that view which, rejecting the error, takes up the vitalising elements in all other systems and religions, and unites them into a living organism with Christ as head. We are reminded of Milton’s famous figure in the “Areopagitica,” of the dismemberment of truth,—how truth was torn limb from limb, and her members were scattered to the four winds; and how the lovers of truth, imitating the careful search of Isis for the body of Osiris, have been engaged ever since in gathering together the severed parts, in order to unite them again into a perfect whole. If apologetic is to be spoken of, this surely is the truest and best form of Christian apology—to show that in Christianity, as nowhere else, the severed portions of truth found in all other systems are organically united, while it completes the body of truth by discoveries peculiar to itself. The Christian doctrine of God, for example, may fairly claim to be the synthesis of all the separate elements of truth found in Agnosticism, Pantheism, and Deism, which by their very antagonisms reveal themselves as one-sidednesses, requiring to be brought into some higher harmony. If Agnosticism affirms that there is that in God—in His infinite and absolute existence—which transcends finite comprehension, Christian theology does the same. If Pantheism affirms the absolute immanence of God in the world, and Deism His absolute transcendence over it, Christianity unites the two sides of the truth in a higher concept, maintaining at the same time the Divine immanence and the Divine transcendence. Even Polytheism in its nobler forms is in its own dark way a witness for a truth which a hard, abstract Monotheism, such as we have in the later (not the Biblical) Judaism, and in Mohammedanism, ignores—the truth, namely, that God is plurality as well as unity—that in Him there is a manifoldness of life, a fulness and diversity of powers and manifestations, such as is expressed by the word Elohim. This element of truth in Polytheism Christianity also takes up, and sets in its proper relation to the unity of God in its doctrine of Tri-unity—the concept of God which is distinctively the Christian one, and which furnishes the surest safeguard of a living Theism against the extremes of both Pantheism and Deism. Optimism and Pessimism are an other pair of contrasts—each in abstraction an error, yet each a witness for a truth which the other overlooks, and Christianity is the reconciliation of both. To take a last example, Positivism a very direct negation of Christianity; yet in its strange “worship of Humanity” is there not that which stretches across the gulf and touches hands with a religion which meets the cravings of the heart for the human in God by the doctrine of the Incarnation? It is the province of a true and wise Christian theology to take account of all this, and to seek, with ever increasing enlargement of vision, the comprehensive view in which all factors of the truth are combined. The practical inference I would draw—the very opposite of that drawn by others from the same premises—is, that it is the unwisest way possible of dealing with Christianity to pare it down, or seek to sublimate it away, as if it had no positive content of its own; or, by lavish compromise and concession, to part with that which belongs to its essence. It is not in a blunted and toned down Christianity, but in the exhibition of the Christian view in the greatest fulness and completeness possible, that the ultimate synthesis of the conflicting elements in the clash of systems around us is to be found.
Relation of Christianity to world-theories.
This is perhaps the place to point out that, whatever the character of the world-view involved in Christianity, it is not one in all respects absolutely new. It rests upon, and carries forward to its completion, the richly concrete view of the world already found in the Old Testament. As an able expounder of Old Testament theology, Hermann Schultz, has justly said—“There is absolutely no New Testament view which does not approve itself as a sound and definitive formation from an Old Testament germ—no truly Old Testament view which did not inwardly press forward to its New Testament fulfilment.” This is a phenomenon which, I think, has not always received the attention it deserves. What are the main characteristics of this Old Testament conception? At its root is the idea of a holy, spiritual, self-revealing God, the free Creator of the world, and its continual Preserver. As correlative to this, and springing out of it, is the idea of man as a being made in God’s image, and capable of moral relations and spiritual fellowship with his Maker; but who, through sin, has turned aside from the end of his creation, and stands in need of Redemption. In the heart of the history, we have the idea of a Divine purpose, working itself out through the calling of a special nation, for the ultimate benefit and blessing of mankind. God’s providential rule extends over all creatures and events, and embraces all peoples of the earth, near and remote. In view of the sin and corruption that have overspread the world, His government is one of combined mercy and judgment; and His dealings with Israel in particular are preparative to the introduction of a better economy, in which the grace already partially exhibited will be fully revealed. The end is the establishment of a kingdom of God under the rule of the Messiah, in which all national limitations will be removed, the Spirit be poured forth, and Jehovah will become the God of the whole earth. God will make a new covenant with His people, and will write His laws by His Spirit in their hearts. Under this happy reign the final triumph of righteousness over sin will be accomplished, and death and all other evils will be abolished. Here is a very remarkable “Weltanschauung,” the presence of which at all in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures is a fact of no ordinary significance. In the comparative history of religions, it stands quite unique. Speculations on the world and its origin are seen growing up in the schools of philosophy; but on the ground of religion there is nothing to compare with this. The lower religions, Fetishism and the like, have of course nothing of the nature of a developed world-view. The rudiments of such a view in the older nature-religions are crude, confused, polytheistic—mixed up abundantly with mythological elements. Brahmanism and Buddhism rest on a metaphysical foundation; they are as truly philosophical systems as the atomistic or pantheistic theories of the Greek schools, or the systems of Schopenhauer and Hartmann in our own day. And the philosophy they inculcate is a philosophy of despair; they contain no spring of hope or progress. Zoroastrianism, with its profound realisation of the conflict of good and evil in the universe, perhaps comes nearest to the religion of the Old Testament, yet is severed from it by an immense gulf. I refer only to its pervading dualism, its reverence for physical elements, its confusion of natural and moral evil—above all, to its total lack of the idea of historical Revelation. The Biblical conception is separated from every other by its monotheistic basis, its unique clearness, its organic unity, its moral character, and its teleological aim. It does not matter for the purposes of this argument what dates we assign to the books of the Old Testament in which these views are found whether we attribute them, with the critics to the age of the prophets, or to any other. These views are at least there many centuries before the Christian age began and they are found nowhere else than on the soil of Israel. This is the singular fact the critic has to face, and we cannot profess to wonder that, impartially studying it, voices should be heard from the midst of the advanced school itself unhesitatingly declaring, Date your books when you will, this religion is not explicable save on the hypothesis of Revelation!
General drift and scope of the Lectures.
The general drift and object of these Lectures should now, I think, be apparent. From the conditions of this Lectureship I am precluded from directly entering the apologetic field. I feel, however, that it would be useless to discuss any important theological subject at the present day without reference to the thought and speculation of the time. No other mode of thought would enable me to do justice to the Christian position, and none, I think, would be so interesting to those for whom the Lectures are primarily intended. This, however, will be subsidiary to the main design of showing that there is a definite Christian view of things, which has a character, coherence, and unity of its own, and stands in sharp contrast with counter theories and speculations, and that this world-view has the stamp of reason and reality upon itself, and can amply justify itself at the bar both of history and of ex experience. I shall endeavour to show that the Christian view of thing forms a logical whole which cannot be infringed on, or accepted or rejected piecemeal, but stands or falls in its integrity, and can only suffer from attempts at amalgamation or compromise with theories which rest on totally distinct bases. I hope thus to make clear at least the true nature of the issues involved in a comparison of the Christian and “modern” views, and I shall be glad if I can in any way contribute to the elucidation of the former.
Objections in limine
Two objections may be taken in limine to the course I propose to follow, and it is proper at this stage that I should give them some attention.
I. From theology of feeling.
I. The first objection is taken from the standpoint of the theology of feeling, and amounts to a denial of our right to speak of a Christian “Weltanschauung” at all; indeed, to assume that Christianity has a definite doctrinal content of any kind. This class of objectors would rule the cognitive element out of religion altogether. Religion, it is frequently alleged, has nothing to do with notions of the intellect, but only with states and dispositions of the heart. Theories and doctrines are no essential part of it, but, on the contrary, a bane and injury and hindrance to its free development and progress. Those who speak thus sometimes do so in the interests of a theory which would seek the essence of religion in certain instincts, or sentiments, or emotions, which are supposed to be universal and indestructible in the human race, and to constitute the imperishable and undecaying substance of all religions—the emotions, e.g., of awe or wonder, or reverence or dependence, awakened by the impression of the immensity or mystery of the universe; while the and beliefs connected with these emotions are regarded as but the accidents of a particular stage of culture, and as possessing no independent value. They are at best the variegated moulds into which this emotional life of the spirit has for the time being poured itself—the envelopes and vehicles through which it seeks for itself preservation and expression. All religions, from this impartial standpoint, Christianity included, are equally Divine and equally human. But even those who recognise a higher origin for the Christian religion sometimes speak of it as if in its original form it was devoid of all definite doctrinal content; or at least as if the doctrinal ideas found in connection with it were only external wrappage and covering, and could be stripped off—altered, manipulated, modified, or dispensed with at the pleasure of the critic—without detriment to the moral and spiritual kernel beneath. Christianity is not given up, but there is the attempt to refine and sublimate it till it is reduced to a simple state of sentiment and feeling; to purge it of the theoretic element till nothing is left but the vaguest residuum of doctrinal opinion. Agreeing with this party in their aversion to doctrine, yet occupying a distinct standpoint, are the ultra-spirituals, whose naturally mystical bent of mind, and fondness for the hazy and indefinite in theological as in other thinking, predispose them to dwell in the region of cloudy and undefined conceptions.
It scarcely falls within my province to inquire how far this theory holds good in its general application to religion, though even on this broad field it might easily be shown that it involves a number of untenable assumptions, and really contradicts the idea of religion. For what is meant by the assertion that religion consists only in sentiment or feeling, and has nothing to do with doctrinal conceptions? Not, surely, that religion can subsist wholly without ideas, or cognitive apprehension, of some kind. Religion, in the lowest as well as in the highest of its forms is an expression of the relation of the soul to something beyond itself it involves, therefore, not one term, but two; it points to the existence of an object, and implies belief in the reality of that object. The element of idea, therefore,—or, as the Germans would say, “Vorstellung,”—is inseparable from it. No religion has ever been found which did not involve some rudiments of an objective view. We may learn here even from the pessimist Hartmann, who, in an acute analysis of the elements of religion, says, “How true soever it may be that religious feeling forms the innermost kernel of religious life, nevertheless that only is a true religious feeling which is excited through religious representations having a character of objective (if only relative) truth. Religion cannot exist without a religious “Weltanschauung,” and this not without the conviction of its transcendental truth.”
Nor, again, can it be contended that, while a cognitive element of some kind must be conceded, religion is indifferent to the character of its ideas—that these have no influence upon the state of sentiment or feelings. The religion of a Thug, e.g., is a very different thing from the religion of a Christian; and will any one say that the ideas with which the two religions are associated—the ideas they respectively entertain of their deities—have nothing to do with this difference? In what do religions differ as higher and lower, if not in the greater or less purity and elevation of the ideas they entertain of the Godhead, and the greater or less purity of the sentiment to which these ideas give birth?
Nor, finally, can it be held that it is a matter of unimportance whether these ideas which are connected with a religion are regarded as true—i.e. whether they are believed to have any objective counterpart. For religion can as little subsist without belief in the reality of its object, as it can dispense with the idea of an object altogether. This is the weakness of subjective religious theories like Feuerbach’s, in which religion is regarded as the projection of man s own egoistic consciousness into the infinite; or of those poetic and æsthetic theories of religion which regard the ends of religion as served if only it furnishes man with elevating and inspiring ideals, without regard to the question of how far these ideals relate to an actual object. Ideas on this hypothesis are necessary to religion, and may be ranked as higher and lower, but have only a fictitious or poetic value. They are products of historical evolution,—guesses, speculations, dreams, imaginings, of the human mind in regard to that which from the nature of the case is beyond the reach of direct knowledge, probably is unknowable. They are therefore not material out of which anything can be built of a scientific character; not anything that can be brought to an objective test; not anything verifiable. Their sole value, as said earlier, is to serve as vehicles and support of religious feeling. But it is obvious that, on this view, the utility of religious ideas can only last so long as the illusion in connection with them is not dispelled. For religion is more than a mere æsthetic gratification. It implies belief in the existence of a real object other than self, and includes a desire to get into some relation with this object. The mind in religion is in too earnest, a mood to be put off with mere fancies. The moment it dawns on the thoughts of the worshipper that the object he worships has no reality, but is only an illusion or fancy of his own, the moment he is convinced that in his holiest exercises, he is but toying with the creations of his own spirit,—that moment the religious relation is at an end. Neither philosopher nor common man will long continue bowing down to an object in whose actual existence he has ceased to believe.
Nor is the conclusion which seems to follow from this—that the illusion of religion is one which the progress of knowledge is destined to destroy—evaded by the concession that there is some dim Unknowable, the consciousness of which lies at the basis of the religious sentiment, and which the mind can till please itself by clothing with the attributes of God. For what is there in this indefinite relation to an Unknowable, of which we can only affirm that it is not what we think it to be, to serve the purpose of a religion? And what avails it to personalise this conception of the Absolute, when we know, as before, that this clothing with personal attributes is only objective illusion?
No objection, therefore, can fairly be taken from the side of the general “Science of Religions,” to the supposition that a religion may exist which can give us a better knowledge of God than is to be found in the vague and uncertain conjectures and fancies of minds left to their own groping after the Divine. If such a religion exists, furnishing clear and satisfying knowledge of God, His character, will, and ways, His relations to men, and the purposes of His grace, there is plainly great room and need in the world for it; and the consideration of its claims cannot be barred by the assumption that the only valuable elements in any religion must be those which it has in common with all religions—which is the very point in dispute. The only question that can be properly raised is, Whether Christianity is a religion of this nature? And this can only be ascertained by actual inspection.
Turning next to those within the Christian pale who would rule the doctrinal element out of their religion, I confess I find it difficult to understand on what grounds they can justify their procedure. If there is a religion in the world which exalts the office of teaching, it is safe to say that it is the religion of Jesus Christ. It has been frequently remarked that in pagan religions the doctrinal element is at a minimum—the chief thing there is the performance of a ritual. But this is precisely where Christianity distinguishes itself from other religions—it does contain doctrine. It comes to men with definite, positive teaching; it claims to be the truth; it bases religion on knowledge, though a knowledge which is only attainable under moral conditions. I do not see how any one can deal fairly with the facts as they lie before us in the Gospels and Epistles, without coming to the conclusion that the New Testament is full of doctrine. The recently founded science of “New Testament Theology,” which has already attained to a position of such commanding importance among the theological disciplines, is an unexceptionable witness to the same fact. And this is as it should be. A religion based on mere feeling is the vaguest most unreliable, most unstable of all things. A strong, stable, religious life can be built up on no other ground than that of intelligent conviction. Christianity, therefore, addresses itself to the intelligence as well as to the heart. It sounds plausible indeed to say, Let us avoid all doctrinal subtleties; let as keep to a few plain, easy, simple pro positions, in regard to which there will be general agreement. But, unfortunately, men will think on those deep problems which lie at the root of religious belief—on the nature of God, His character, His relations to the world and men, sin, the means of deliverance from it, the end to which things are moving, and if Christianity does not give them an answer, suited to their deeper and more reflective moods, they will simply put it aside as in adequate for their needs. Everything depends here on what the Revelation of the Bible is supposed to be. If it is a few general elementary truths of religion we are in search of, it may freely be conceded that these might have been given in very simple form. But if we are to have a Revelation such as the Bible professes to convey, a Revelation high as the nature of God, deep as the nature of man, universal as the wants of the race, which is to accompany man through all the ascending stages of hi development and still be felt to be a power and inspiration to him for further progress,—it is absurd to expect that such a Revelation will not have many profound and difficult, things in it, and that it will not afford food for thought in its grandest and highest reaches “Thy judgments are a great deep.” A religion divorced from earnest and lofty thought has always, down the whole history of the Church, tended to become weak, jejune, and unwholesome; while the intellect, deprived of its rights within religion, has sought its satisfaction without, and developed into godless nationalism.
Christianity, it is sometimes, said by those who represent this view, is a life, not a creed; it is a spiritual system, and has nothing to do with dogmatic affirmations. But this is to confuse two things essentially different—Christianity as an inward principle of conduct, a subjective religious experience, on the one hand, and Christianity as an objective fact, or an historic magnitude, on the other. But can even the life be produced, or can it be sustained and nourished, without knowledge? Here I cannot forbear the remark that it is a strange idea of many who urge this objection in the interests of what they conceive to be a more spiritual form of Christianity, that “spirituality” in a religion is somehow synonymous with vagueness and indefiniteness; that the more perfectly they can vaporise or volatilise Christianity into a nebulous haze, in which nothing can be perceived distinctly, the nearer they bring it to the ideal of a spiritual religion. This, it is safe to say, was not Paul’s idea of spirituality—he by whom the distinction of “letter” and “spirit” was most strongly emphasised. The region of the spiritual was rather with him, as it is throughout Scripture, the region of the clearest insight and most accurate perception—of full and perfect knowledge (ἐπίγνωσις). His unceasing prayer for his converts was, not that their minds might remain in a state of hazy indistinctness, but that God would give them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of (their) heart enlightened,” that they might grow up in this knowledge, till they should “all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
An objection to the recognition of doctrine in Christianity may be raised, however, from the side of Christian positivism, as well as from that of Christian mysticism. Christianity, it will be here said, is a fact-revelation—it has its centre in a living in Christ, and not a dogmatic creed. And this in a sense is true. The title of my Lectures is the acknowledgment of it. The facts of Revelation are before the doctrines built on them. The gospel is no mere proclamation of “eternal truths,” but the discovery of a saving purpose of God for mankind, executed in time. But the doctrines are the interpretation of the facts. The facts do not stand blank and dumb before us, but have a voice given to them, and a meaning put into them. They are accompanied by living speech, which makes their meaning clear. When John declares that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, and is the Son of God, he is stating a fact, but he is none the less enunciating a doctrine. When Paul affirms, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,” he is proclaiming a fact, but he is at the same time giving an interpretation of it. No writer has laid more stress on the fact, and less on the doctrine, in primitive Christianity than Professor Harnack, yet he cannot help saying, “So far as the God and Father of Jesus Christ is believed in as the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth, the Christian religion includes a definite knowledge of God, of the world, and of the world-aim.” This concedes in principle all that I maintain. It affirms that the facts of Christianity, rightly understood and interpreted, not only yield special doctrines, but compel us to develop out of them a determinate “Weltanschauung.” This is precisely the assertion of the present Lectures.
If I refer for a moment in this connection to Schleiermacher, who may be named as the most distinguished representative of the theology of feeling it is because I think that the position of this remarkable man on the question before us is frequently misunderstood. Schleiermacher’s earlier views are not unlike some of those we have already been considering, and are entangled in many difficulties and inconsistencies in consequence. I deal here only with his later and more matured thought, as represented in his work, Der christliche Glaube. In it also piety is still defined as feeling. It is, he says neither a mode of knowing nor a mode of action, but a mode of feeling, or of immediate selfconsciousness. It is the consciousness of ourselves as absolutely dependent, or, what comes to the same thing, as standing in relation with God. In his earlier writings he had defined it more generally as the immediate feeling of the infinite and eternal, the immediate consciousness of the being of all that is finite in the infinite, of all that is temporal in the eternal, awakened by the contemplation of the universe. But along with this must be taken into account Schleiermacher’s view of the nature of feeling. According to him, feeling is the opposite of knowledge than that pure, original state of consciousness—prior to both knowledge and action—out of which knowledge and action may subsequently be developed. In Christianity this law material of the religious consciousness receives, as it were, a definite shaping and content. The peculiarity in the Christian consciousness is that everything in it is referred back upon Jesus Christ, and the Redemption accomplished through Him. This moving back from the religious consciousness to the Person of the sinless Redeemer as the historical cause of it is already a transcending of the bounds of a theology of mere feeling. Theology is no longer merely a description of states of consciousness, when it leads us out for an explanation of these states into the region of historic fact. But an equally important circumstance is that, while describing the Christian consciousness mainly in terms of feeling, Schleiermacher does not deny that a dogmatic is implicitly contained in this consciousness, and is capable of development out of it. His Der christliche Glaube is, on the contrary, the unfolding of such a dogmatic. His position, therefore, is not offhand to be identified with that of the advocates of a perfectly undogmatic Christianity. These would rule the doctrinal element out of Christianity altogether. But Schleiermacher, while he lays the main stress in the production of this consciousness of Redemption in the believer on the Person of the Redeemer, and only subordinately on his teaching, yet recognises in Christian piety a positive, given content, and out of this he evolves a clearly defined and scientifically arranged system of doctrines. It is to be regretted that in the foundation of his theology—the doctrine of God—Schleiermacher never broke with his initial assumption that God cannot be known as He really is, but only as reflected in states of human consciousness, and therefore failed to lift his theology as a whole out of the region of subjectivity.
A chief reason probably why many entertain a prejudice against the admission of a definite doctrinal content in Christianity, is that they think it militates against the idea of “progress” in theology. How does the matter stand in this respect? Growth and advance of some kind, of course, there is and must be in theology. It cannot be that the other departments of knowledge unceasingly progress, and theology stands still. No one familiar with the history of theology will deny that great changes have taken place in the shape which doctrines have assumed in the course of their development, or will question that these changes have been determined largely by the ruling ideas, the habits of thought, the state of knowledge and culture, of each particular time. The dogmatic moulds which were found adequate for one age have often proved insufficient for the next, to which a larger horizon of vision has been granted; and have had to be broken up that new ones might be created, more adapted to the content of a Revelation which in some sense transcends them all. I recognise therefore to the full the need of growth and progress in theology. Bit by bit, as the ages go on, we see more clearly the essential lineaments of the truth as it is in Jesus; we learn to disengage the genuine truths of Christ’s gospel from human additions and corruptions; we apprehend their bearings and relations with one another, and with new truths, more distinctly; we see them in new points of view, develop and apply them in new ways. All this is true, and it is needful to remember it lest to temporary points of view, and human theories and formulations we attribute an authority and completeness which in no way belong to them. But it does not by any means follow from this that therefore, everything in Christianity is fluent, that it has no fixed startingpoints, no definite basal lines, no sure and moveless foundations, no grand determinative positions which control and govern all thought within distinctly Christian limits,—still less that, in the course of its long history, theology has achieved nothing, or has reached no results which can fairly be regarded as settled. This is the exaggeration on the other side, and so far from being helpful to progress in theology, it is in reality the denial of its possibility. Progress in theology implies that there is something to develop—that some truths at all events, relating to God and to Divine things, are ascertainable, and are capable of scientific treatment. It is easy to speak of the attempt to “limit infinite truth within definite formulæ”; but, on the other hand, unless some portion at least of this infinite, truth can be brought within range of the human faculties, theology has nothing to work on. It is a pseudo-science, and to speak of progress in it is idle.
—Christian View of God and the World, The