Sidor som bilder

Call Christianity a development if we will; its germ lay not in the decaying husks of the old philosophies. Call it a development; its vital impulse came not from the current thoughts and hopes of its time. The almost contemporary writings of Cicero "may be searched in vain for a single expression of reliance on the progressive improvement of mankind. The two poles of his philosophy, between which he wavers with perpetual oscillation, are regret for the past and resignation to the present."1 Christianity redeemed the past and created a future. Call it a development, if that term suits our philosophy; yet must we admit that this is a development from another source than any that philosophy had yet disclosed, and in another line from any that the best faiths of the world had indicated.

All the essential characteristics of Christianity - its doctrines, its methods, its aims, and its effects-prove it the development of a divine plan, " kept secret since the world began," but made manifest by the gospel of Jesus Christ illumining with one broad, glowing belt of light, the starlit heaven of the prophets.

II. But these very scriptures teach us also that, "according to the commandment of the everlasting God," this gospel is to be "made known to all nations, for the obedience of faith." It was designed to be the final, the universal, the perpetual religion of mankind. This it asserts as its aim and its prerogative. It is the gospel of truth and of salvation "to all nations" down to the end of the world. To justify this assertion, Christianity must prove itself equal, as a religion, to all the wants and all the capacities of mankind, in all phases of society and in all periods of time. Now Christianity has, thus far, met the religious wants of the race without exhausting itself, and it is to-day equal to the demands of the human soul and of human society, in all that pertains to religion, in an age of intellectual inquiry, of political progress, and of humanitary reform.

That Christianity has proved adequate to the needs of 1 Merivale, Vol. II. P. 427.

[ocr errors]

human society and the developments of human progress hitherto, history will testify by this one pregnant fact: that Christianity has lived on steadily through eighteen centuries, and no age has yet come up to its standard of personal living, or its measure of social regeneration. Here we summon a witness whom none will accuse of a superstitious veneration for the scriptures, or of a blind devotion to Christianity under any received form of theology or of worship. Speaking of the true spirit of Christianity, the late Theodore Parker said: "For eighteen hundred years this Christianity of Christ has been in the world, to warn and encourage. Violence and cunning, allies of sin, have opposed. Every weapon learning could snatch from the arsenals of the past, or science devise anew, or pride and cruelty and wit invent, has been used by mistaken men to destroy this fabric. Not a stone has fallen from the heavenly arch of、 real religion; not a loop-hole been found where a shot could enter."1 How "vast has the influence of Jesus been. How his spirit wrought in the hearts of his disciples, rude, selfish, bigoted, as at first they were. How it has wrought in the world. His words judge the nations. The wisest son of man has not measured their height. They speak to what is deepest in profound men; what is holiest in good men; what is divinest in religious men. They kindle anew the flame of devotion in hearts long cold. They are spirit and life. His truth was not derived from Moses and Solomon; but the light of God shone through him, not colored nor bent aside. His life is the perpetual rebuke of all time since. It condemns ancient civilization; it condemns modern civilization. Wise men we have since had, and good men; but this Galilean youth strode before the world whole thousands of years, so much of divinity was in him. His words solve the questions of this present age.2..... Let men improve never so far in civilization, or soar never so high on the wings of religion and love, they can never

1 Discourse of Religion, p. 296 seq.

2 Parker's Miscellaneous Writings, p. 175.

outgo the flight of truth and Christianity. It will always be above them. It is as if we were to fly towards a star, which becomes larger and more bright the nearer we approach, till we enter and are absorbed in its glory."1

When we analyze more particularly the adaptations of Christianity to our times, we find, in the first place:

(1) That the religion of the Bible is equal to the demands of man's spiritual nature in the most advanced stage of scientific thought, and under the highest stimulus of intellectual inquiry. To demand of a book of religion, written in the most ancient times, for popular instruction in religious truth and duty, that it should anticipate the discoveries of physical science by many centuries, that it should arrange the phenomena of nature under scientific formula and always speak of them in scientific terms, were an incongruity that science itself must condemn. That were to defeat the very object of the book, by making it unintelligible, and so far incredible. To charge such a book with scientific errors because it describes nature according to popular modes of conception and speech were equally illogical. As a book for the common people it could not do otherwise; and this very feature of it makes it a book for all ages and nations, at whatever grades of intellectual culture. Science can fairly demand of the Bible neither the facts nor the phrases which it employs within its own sphere. But it can insist, and ought to insist, that, as a scheme of religious thought and of spiritual life, the Bible shall be equal to the wants of an intellectual and inquiring age; and that in matters of fact it shall contravene no fact or principle fairly established from other sources. For if the Bible be not equal intellectually to the demands of human thought when enlightened and stimulated by science, then it must lose its hold upon the world as knowledge advances; and if it be found at variance with truths well established from nature and reason, then must it yield its claim to obedience as having divine authority.

Now with regard to matters of fact in the physical world, 1 Parker's Miscellaneous Writings, p. 184.

the portraiture of nature in the Hebrew poetry, Humboldt being witness, is marvellous for its comprehensiveness and its accuracy. No physicist could improve upon it for purposes of popular description and of devotional meditation. So of the Mosaic record of the creation. Neither the principles of Hebrew criticism nor the theories of geology are yet in a condition to warrant a minute "parallelism between the ages of nature, as revealed to us in the fossiliferous strata, and the days of creation described in the first chapter of Genesis." Yet, as a Christian scientist, Dr. Duns observes: "Intelligent readers must often have noticed the remarkable way in which many of the most striking words of Genesis fit into the requirements of true science. Take the last and most scientific treatise on meteorology, and, in the light of all it makes known of the action of light and heat on the elements which compose our atmosphere, of evaporation, and of the watery treasures which the air holds. suspended in it, you will be struck with the harmony between these phenomena and the changes described upon. the second day of creation, when God divided the waters from the waters, lifted the vapory clouds from the face of the deep, and made

"The firmament, expanse of liquid, pure,
Transparent, elemental air."

Taken in its broad outlines as a scheme of the world's origin, this record of the physical creation, together with the unity of the race and the geographical dispersion of the primitive nations therein described, finds a growing confir mation in the soberer judgments of science. Science is still in the stage of hypothesis concerning that far antiquity; and what to-day seems contrary to some received interpretation of the Bible, may hereafter be harmonized, through new discoveries or a wiser criticism. The account of the creation in Genesis is marked by that sublime principle of order which is among the highest results of science, and by

1 Cosmos, Vol. II., Hebrew Poetry.

* Duns's Biblical Natural Science, Vol I. pp. 57, 58.

the assertion of a cause which science itself must recognize as the end of all inquiry. That general order or plan of the creation the mature results of science tend more and more to verify; and the biblical account of nature, when interpreted as popular, unscientific language should be understood, stands as good for this age of microscopic scrutiny and mathematical analysis, as for an age when the eye was the only observer, and unlettered traditions were the only record. The Bible speaks of physical phenomena in that tropical language which is the habit of the East; but "let not western metaphysics misjudge, lest it be found to misunderstand, eastern aesthetics." 2

While thus unimpeached upon the physical count, when tested by sound interpretation, this religion of the Bible stands above and beyond all science in its exhibition of the spiritual forces of the universe. Mr. Spencer himself, who proposes a complete philosophy of nature as the basis of a higher religion, makes this candid admission: "The sincere man of science, content to follow wherever the evidence leads him, becomes by each new inquiry more profoundly convinced that the universe is an insoluble problem. Alike in the external and the internal worlds, he sees himself in the midst of perpetual changes, of which he can discover neither the beginning nor the end. If, tracing back the evolution of things, he allows himself to entertain the hypothesis that matter once existed in a diffused form, he finds it utterly impossible to conceive how this came to be so; and equally, if he speculates on the future, he can assign no limit to the grand succession of phenomena ever unfolding themselves before him. ..... When, again, he turns from the succession of phenomena to their essential nature, he is equally at fault. Though he may succeed in resolving all properties of objects into manifestations of force, he is not thereby enabled to realize what force is; but finds, on the contrary, that the more he thinks about it,

1 See Prof. Blackie on the Mosaic Cosmogony, in "Good Words," Oct. 1861. 2 Murphy on Genesis, p. 43.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »