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strong, keen, serviceable, excellent sense of the life which Jesus lived as other men live, and yet be utterly insensible to the life of Jesus Christ, as fed by the Spirit, and going out in miracles, and incapable of seeing corruption. But indeed for his manner of writing, the spirit of his age abundantly accounts just as it accounts for some of the more fervent of his admirers, who like in his writings what is weakest as much as what is best. Of what use, it is asked, can miracles ever have been
among people not fit to be believed about them, such as were the people of old time and the people of the Middle Ages, and such as are all the people of the provinces of France, and men of the people and men of the world everywhere? For, as Renan says, neither men of the world nor men of the people are “capable of establishing the miraculous character of an act.” An act is as he says, any act, any miraculous act, and not merely some very recondite thing hard to notice. This is one of those general statements which often pass unchallenged, because nobody thinks that they are intended to apply to him; but it is not, therefore the less mischievous. Perhaps there is not a man of the world who allows this opinion, as he reads it, but thinks, though he is no physician and has never been publicly recognized as critic, chemist, or physiologist, that somehow, certainly, he must have science and art enough for being one of Renan's judges of the miraculous, and must have been intended, indeed, to be included amongst them. Physicians, physiologists, men of criticism and chemistry, men of science, the only competent judges as to miracles!' For some conceivable miracles, they might be; but for some others detective policemen would be far better witnesses. And, for still some other miracles that men of the world, as judges, are inferior to chemists, this is a sentiment which can come only from scientific folly, or from much learning gone mad. As to whether the true magnetic pole could be made to swerve for a moment in the heavens, professional men would be the better and perhaps the only proper judges. But men of the people and men of the world are as good judges as men of science on a miracle like this, which occurred in the wilderness : “His disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude? And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat and were filled; and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full. And they that did eat were five thousand men, beside women and children.”
But now what a want of taste and feeling it seems not to pause here for a little while, after such a glimpse into Galilee at that wonderful time. But it is not permitted, as the world now is, to those who know it theologically. For in comes on the mind the recollection of David F. Strauss, the famous writer on the Gospels, who says himself that he cannot believe in a miracle until he has had a solution of the philosophical views which he entertains against the possibility of such a thing. So that with him, even seeing would not be believing, unless, by good luck, there were some sophist standing by, more cunning than himself, who could unloose for him in his mind the knots of his own tying. Any man, down in the depths of learning, or up on the heights of science, in a difficulty of that kind, is to be pitied, because of the pains which he must have taken, before he could get there in his senses. But, now for David F. Strauss himself, pity is not the word, but sympathy. And the sympathy to be felt for him is profound, and as though for a pioneer in the grand advance of civilization, who had got bewildered in a thicket, and at whose position only they can laugh who cannot even faintly conjecture what it is to try a step forwards in theology under religious responsibility. Still
, however, it is a certainty that such an avowal as that which Strauss makes of himself is the self-exposure of philosophy falsely so called.”
And now let us consider the arguments against the supernatural, from the uniformity of human nature. At present, almost everybody feels the force of it more or less, and not the less unduly, often, because unconsciously. But as a dogmatic position, it is commonly assumed by persons belonging to two very different classes,-by studious, scholarly men, and by people who call themselves self-made men, and who boast themselves of having been sharpened by collisions with their fellows. Human nature, it is supposed, is everywhere and always the same, and as uniform as a law of nature; so as that everybody knows of himself whether a spirit has ever been seen anywhere, or a vision ever been had, or a miraculous cure ever been experienced. Now, certainly, human nature is everywhere human. But then what'is this humanity ? For, before beginning to deny from it as a ground, it should be absolutely certain how far the ground reaches. Plainly, we are not all the equals of Plato, or Solomon, or Newton. And if now and then individuals have proclaimed themselves sensitive to a world of spiri it would hardly seem to be a greater variation in human nat than what is common in every city, where one man wallow the mire of sensuality, while another feeds on fruits ripen the topmost boughs of the tree of knowledge And certai seer does not vary from a Troglodyte more than Plato doe
so why should he not be believed in, on good evidence as to his character ?
But, indeed, for those who hold that man is body and spirit, why should it be incredible that there should be varieties of spiritual experience among men, considering that some men do nothing but live to the body, while others live earnestly to the spirit?
If there be a spirit in man, and a spirit with the powers of a spirit, why should it be reckoned a thing impossible that it should make itself more distinctly felt in one man than another? And why should it be beyond belief or expectation even, that now and then there should be a person with whom some faculty of the spirit should be more than dormantly alive?-the eye for spirits even, if any should be near; the ear for more than mortal sounds; and the spiritual understanding for a prompting other than that of flesh and blood ? But the fact is, that the antisupernaturalism of our times is the result of thought akin to materialism. And from this effect of materialism very few persons are wholly exempt. For even the partizans of a spiritual theology argue it commonly like materialists, -argue it as though it were some field of nature, reaching out of sight, indeed, but to be pronounced upon from familiar analogies. Even those who rank themselves farthest from the professors of materialism, shew themselves to be inwardly affected by it, from their unwillingness to have spirit defined in any other way than negatively. They say that spirit is not substance, because matter is substantial; that spirit cannot be known of by men, because though they may be spirit themselves, they can learn only through the five senses; and that spirit cannot act upon matter, because it cannot touch it, from the want of some property in common with it. So that, for some fervent disciples of a spiritual philosophy, spirit is not much more than the indefinable. The universality of the materialism of the age is illustrated by the manner in which even the immaterialists agree with their opposites on some most important points of denial and disbelief. Some of them talk reverentially of George Fox and his doctrine and experience of the spirit; but they resolutely ignore all the signs and wonders in his history, which by Fox himself are ascribed to the spirit. Others of them hold the writings of Jacob Boehme like oracles of spirituality, while they treat like an idle, unmeaning preface the assertion prefixed to one of them, that it was not written out of his mind, but from thoughts which forced an utterance through him from the spirit. And still others of them affect Plotinus, as a great spiritual teacher; but they shut their eyes on the intercourse with spirits which he held, and on his experiences of the ecstatic state.
A man may hold the creed of his sect or party ever so firmly, but yet his thought will be largely governed by what he can never quite escape from,—the spirit of his age. And narratives or doctrines of the supernatural, in a time like this, can be at best only just not rejected. At present, in meditative stillness, spiritual perception may be attained, but out in the world it fails at once, from being stifled by the atmosphere of the world's common thought.
True, thousands and tens of thousands of clergymen preach the supernatural, and millions of persons, week by week, sit and hear them. But this is not evidence of faith, any more than the discords, deceits, and discontent, the treacheries, sensualities, and blasphemies of Monday are proofs of what was preached and acquiesced in, on Sunday. I suppose that nearly every learned and thoughtful clergyman might express himself in something like this manner, “I am one of His witnesses for these things. I see that they were so, and are so. And yet, strange to say, I cannot preach as I feel; or, rather, I cannot make my hearers feel what I wish to preach. And the sermon, which I thought was full of the arrows of the Lord, hits no one where I aim, and is indeed no more than the lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument.'' And more than that, the sermon does not sound like the same thing, even to himself. And the words, which, while they were meditated in secret, were fraught with the Spirit, being uttered in public, do not reach the spiritual man, but only the ear of the natural man, and are powerless except as they may chance to be approved by the intellect, testing them by logic, rhetoric, history, and some of the natural sensibilities.
And the reason is very simple, for the atmosphere of the world and of a worldly church is not that of a Christian study, with its windows opening towards Jerusalem. And even a preacher may be really " in the Spirit on the Lord's day;" but he must be very happily constituted if he does not find that, with crossing the street, on his way to the pulpit, the Spirit has been more or less quenched within him. And, from exchanging looks with his hearers, he is conscious that he is not quite what he was, while in presence with the fathers, in sympathy with Jeremy Taylor, and in fellowship with Baxter and Doddridge,—while sharing so in the communion of the saints. Partly his rationalistic dogmas and forms of speech do not admit fully of either the doctrines or the utterance of the Spirit; and partly, what utterance of the Spirit his words suffice for, often his hearers are not capable of receiving ; because in them the sense of the supernatural is very commonly almost suspended; and so they seeing, sce not; and hearing, they hear not; neither do they understand.” And
with the people, as well as the preacher, all this is not so much their fault as their misfortune, -the tendency of the time which they belong to, and which it is not possible to quite escape. And this tendency, this spirit of the age, is not of yesterday merely, but of previous ages, -an effect of the manner in which the souls of men have been stupefied by the astounding disclosures of science, and a result, too, of the ordinary modes of religious administration having been persisted in, without the slightest modification, since the days when they were the agony of George Fox's soul, and the scorn of Robert Barclay's logic; and in part, also, a consequence of altered ways of life, the growth of luxury, the increasing subordination of the individual to the body politic, and the predominance of the peculiar influences of the city over those of the country.
Perhaps never before has there been as much unbelief innocent in its origin, as there is at present. In former ages, widely prevalent unbelief has been caused by moral corruption. But the peculiar scepticism of the present age is not so desperate as that. It is not mainly of the heart, and thus the issues of life are not thereby corrupted, as they otherwise might be. And so at present, in their inmost hearts, men have really more faith than they themselves think. And often it is observed that, apparently, while sickness thins away the body, there is also a mental inorustation which gives way, too, and through which the soul seems to look out with a sweet surprise, and a glad sense of the God, who is nearer than was thought. If it may be so expressed, it is for the comfort of the strong more than even of the dying, that faith, at the present day, needs to be strengthened. What general uneasiness there is theologically! Every church is opposed to every other church, and yet also is divided against itself. And the same want of faith or satisfying conviction is largely evident in individuals. Vast numbers are simply acquiescent in their creeds, and timidly recoil from even learning about them. And how often it is to be seen, that if an individual thinks for himself, he is at one time zealous for ceremonies, and at another time resolute against them, as embarrassing crutches; and is a believer in mainly one article of his creed, one year, and another article another year. And from those hearts, which best know themselves, what an unceasing prayer must be rising, from closet to closet, from church to church, from town to town, all round the world, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief !” The unbelief which is specially of this age, is so far from being atheistic, that it even prays. For such atheism as is possible now, is what really may be confuted within the range of the mind of a child. Indeed, the unbelief of our time is mainly anti-supernaturalism, or more